Updated Friday, Sept. 16, 11:55AM
Harris County prosecutor Linda Geffin was working late last week when she took a break and saw a Facebook post from a Texas death row attorney whose client, Duane Buck, faced imminent execution. Geffin had been part of the team that helped send Buck to death row; it was the only capital case she’d ever worked on, and as she recalls, it “left a big impression on me.” More than a decade had passed since the case, so she decided to reread the court transcripts, including a hundred or so pages of testimony from state psychologist Walter Quijano. Then she came across this passage:
Q. You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?
Geffin thought, “That’s pretty clearly inappropriate, not to mention morally and ethically wrong.” Indeed, Buck’s attorney was trying to save his life based on his unequal treatment on the basis of race. On September 9, Geffin wrote a letter to Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles calling for Buck’s execution to be halted. “No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, September 13, the Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Buck’s appeals for clemency. He is now scheduled to die on Thursday, September 15 unless Perry grants him a thirty-day reprieve. It will be the 236th execution overseen by Perry during his tenure as governor.
Buck was one of seven prisoners on Texas death row whose cases were addressed in 2000 by then—Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. Now a US Senator, Cornyn announced that he would not contest the appeals of Buck and six other prisoners—even though their guilt was not in doubt—because race had been used as a factor to determine their criminality. The same psychologist, Walter Quijano, had testified during the sentencing phase of all the trials, repeatedly saying that the fact that they were African-American or Hispanic increased the likelihood of them being dangerous in the future. In a capital punishment case, this tends to prompt jurors to choose a death sentence over life in prison. By acknowledging the testimony was “inappropriate,” Cornyn said his goal was “to assure the people of Texas that our criminal justice system is fairly administered.”