Race-Based Execution: Rick Perry on the Spot

A man is scheduled to be killed this week because jurors were told black people are dangerous. 

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Rick Perry (Mike Carlson/Associated Press)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is being asked to stop the execution of an African-American man who is scheduled to die in a Huntsville, Texas, death chamber on Thursday. His death sentence was handed down in a sentencing hearing during which jurors were told that his race made him more likely to pose a future danger to the public.

There's little question that Duane Edward Buck killed two people and wounded a third victim in a 1995 shooting in Houston. The issue is not his conviction for murder but his sentencing hearing, at which jurors had to weigh whether he posed a "future danger" when deciding whether to condemn him to death or to life in prison.

The defense called psychologist Walter Quijano to testify that Buck would not be dangerous in the future, in part because he had no history of violence. But a prosecutor cited the "the race factor" and asked whether Buck's being black "increases the future dangerousness."

"Yes," the psychologist replied. Prosecutors cited that testimony in their closing argument, and jurors decided to sentence Buck to death.

It turns out that Quijano had a reputation for testifying that a defendant's black or Hispanic ethnicity made it more likely that the person would continue to be a threat to society. More than a decade ago, the Los Angeles Times reports, Texas state attorneys admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that Quijano had wrongly injected race into the sentencing hearings for seven Texas death row inmates, including Buck.

As a result of the biased testimony, other six inmates got new trials. But several years later, new state attorneys refused to give Buck a new hearing, and courts upheld his death sentence.

A prosecutor in Buck's case has asked Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemency or a new hearing.

Perry, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, was asked during a GOP debate last week about Texas' 234 executions during his nearly 11 years as governor. He said he "never struggled" with the issue because "the state of Texas has a very thoughtful, very clear process in place." It's hard to imagine how he could possibly have to struggle to see that the process he admires so much has gone outrageously wrong in this case.