(Houston, Texas) Today, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. released a new video highlighting the racial discrimination in the Texas death penalty system and the shocking case of death-sentenced prisoner, Duane Buck. Mr. Buck was sentenced to death in Harris County (Houston), Texas, after his trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist indicating that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous because he is Black. The video was produced by award-winning documentary filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler.
“A Broken Promise in Texas” contains powerful, never-before-seen interviews with Texas civil rights leaders, elected politicians, the surviving victim in the Buck case, one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors and Mr. Buck’s family members, among others, calling for a new, fair sentencing hearing. The video’s release comes at a critical juncture, as Mr. Buck may soon be at risk of execution: the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is currently considering Mr. Buck’s appeal for a new sentencing hearing free of racial bias and the Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks.
“Everyone who sees this powerful video will come away from it with the alarming realization that if Duane Buck can be sentenced to death – and possibly executed — based on racial stereotypes, then our criminal justice system is broken not just for Mr. Buck, but for all of us,” said Christina Swarns, Mr. Buck’s attorney and Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.’s Criminal Justice Project. “A properly functioning criminal justice system does not condone the flagrant exploitation of racial fears and stereotypes to secure a death sentence. It cannot countenance a racially biased and unfair execution.”
Former Texas Governor Mark White, who oversaw the executions of 19 individuals, narrates the video and urges citizens to take action: “It’s unfair to have someone on death row if they are not supposed to be there … Don’t wait until it is too late … Join me and more than 100 civil rights leaders, clergy, former prosecutors, and judges in calling for a new and fair sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck. Tell Texas to keep its promise.”
Over 50,000 people from Texas and around the country have signed a petition calling on Texas officials to grant Mr. Buck a new sentencing hearing. The newly released video exposes the injustice of Duane Buck’s case and encourages support for the petition for a new, fair sentencing at: https://www.change.org/
As the video shows, at Mr. Buck’s 1997 capital sentencing hearing in Harris County, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence. The jury then found Mr. Buck would be a future danger and sentenced him to death.
Three years after Mr. Buck’s capital trial, in 2000, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn identified seven cases, including Mr. Buck’s, in which the State of Texas impermissibly relied on testimony linking race and dangerousness to secure a death sentence. The Attorney General promised to support new sentencing hearings for the seven identified defendants and kept its promise as to six of them. But Texas reneged on its promise to Mr. Buck and is now aggressively pursuing his execution.
“It is virtually unprecedented for a state official to confess error in a capital case. And in this situation, [the Attorney General] confessed error in six capital cases,” said Kathryn Kase, Executive Director of Texas Defender Service, in the video.
Mr. Buck’s life was saved by the U.S. Supreme Court before his September 2011 scheduled execution. Two U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed that Mr. Buck’s death sentence requires review because “our criminal justice system should not tolerate” a death sentence “marred by racial overtones.”
“When we apply the death penalty and we seek criminal sentences, we have to do so in a color-blind manner. Allowing this kind of racial testimony in any capital sentence proceeding undermines the entire justice process,” said Kate Black, Mr. Buck’s attorney, in the video.