The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund today released a new video highlighting racial discrimination in the Texas death penalty system by exploring the disturbing case of death-sentenced prisoner, Duane Buck.
After Buck was convicted of murder for the 1995 shooting death of his ex-girlfriend and her acquaintance in Houston, a psychologist testified that blacks were more likely than whites to be violent re-offenders if they were ever released back into the public — a claim emphasized by the prosecutor during closing arguments.
Buck was sentenced to death in 1997, but a prominent group of advocates, including former Texas Gov. Mark White and one of the original prosecutors, contend his death sentence was unfairly based on race.
The video, called “A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case” and produced by award-winning documentary filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, contains powerful, never-before-seen interviews with Texas civil rights leaders, elected politicians, the surviving victim in the Buck case, one of Buck’s trial prosecutors and Buck’s family members, among others. They are all calling for a new, fair sentencing hearing.
The video’s release comes as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is considering Buck’s appeal for a new sentencing hearing free of racial bias. 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, Buck’s attorney and director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund’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,” she said.
The video is narrated by former Texas Governor Mark White, who oversaw the executions of 19 individuals.
“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,” White said. “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 Buck a new sentencing hearing.
An appeal filed in Buck’s case included research showing that at the time of his sentence, black defendants in Houston were three times more likely to be charged with a capital crime than whites. Some call the region the death penalty capital of the U.S. because Harris County, Texas, has carried out 116 executions since 1976, more than any entire state other than Texas itself.
Buck’s attorney Katherine Kase said, “We never say, ‘Oh, you’re African-American, oh you’re Mexican-American, so you should be put to death.’ We all recognize that that would be wrong.”
There currently is no execution date for Buck, who was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner, 32, and Kenneth Butler, 33, a week after Buck and Gardner broke up. But a family member of one of the victims believes he was fairly convicted and wants him put to death.