What’s Next for Duane Buck on Death Row?

The Supreme Court has declined to review his racially tainted case. Now it may be up to Rick Perry.

Texas State Department of Corrections; Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Texas State Department of Corrections; Darren McCollester/Getty Images

While his presidential campaign is a disaster — and great fodder for late-night jokesters — Texas Gov. Rick Perry still receives hearty ovations when he brags about the number of executions he has presided over during his tenure: 235 and counting.

He is probably salivating at the chance to add Duane Buck to his body count, since the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Buck’s appeal Monday, paving the way for the Dallas prosecutor to set a new execution date.

Many people, and apparently many Bible-thumping Perry fans, cannot get past the fact that Buck committed the crimes for which he was tried. Frankly, however, that is often the case in so many of these death-penalty situations.

What they forget is that ours is a system of laws built in large measure on the Constitution — specifically Amendment 14, guaranteeing due process, and Amendment 8, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment. We Americans are not the “Vengeance is mine” types — at least that is what our most sacred democratic documents tell us.

The most recent execution under Perry’s watch took place in September, that of Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist who participated in the 1998 lynching of a black man, James Byrd. His execution drew no mass protest, unlike that of Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia the same September night despite appeals from local activists, national civil rights leaders and even the pope. You see: In Davis’ case, there were huge questions about his guilt in the 1989 murder of a police officer. 

In Buck’s case, there is no dispute over what happened more than 16 years ago. “We never contested his guilt,” Kate Black, from the Texas Defender Service, told The Root about the client she has had since April.

In the decision handed down Monday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito summarized the crime thusly: “One morning in July 1995, petitioner Duane E. Buck went to his ex-girlfriend’s house with a rifle and a shotgun. After killing one person and wounding another, Buck chased his ex-girlfriend outside. Her children followed and witnessed Buck shoot and kill their mother as she attempted to flee. An arresting officer testified that Buck was laughing when he was arrested and said ‘the bitch deserved what she got.’ “

Buck is not someone I would invite home to Sunday dinner; nor is he someone to whom I would send care packages. He is no hero by any means, despite the fact that his lawyer from the Texas Defender Service says that he is remorseful. This is the thing: His case was tainted by racial evidence pressed upon the jury by the prosecutor.

Prominent Texans — lawyers (including one who prosecuted him), a former governor, members of the clergy, civil libertarians — are asking the district attorney, Patricia Lykos, to delay setting an execution date and to schedule a new sentencing hearing for Buck. “The State of Texas cannot condone any form of racial discrimination in the courtroom,” these leaders wrote to Lykos. “The use of race in sentencing poisons the legal process and breeds cynicism in the judiciary.”