Texas Governor Rick Perry uses his state’s reputation for killing without question to gain applause for his presidential bid from Tea Party audiences that cannot contain their bloodlust. Perry, the frontrunner for the Republican party’s 2012 nomination claims he “never struggled” with questions of justice and injustice, right and wrong, when it comes to approving the executions of Texans.
That’s because, Perry says, “the state of Texas has a very thoughtful, very clear process in place.”
On Thursday night, that “very thoughtful, very clear process” was due to execute the 236th inmate to die on Perry’s watch.
But the latest victim, Duane Edward Buck, had been sentenced to death after an “expert witness” told jurors in Houston that Buck posed a greater threat to public safety because he was African-American.
That racially biased sentencing process drew objections from one of the prosecutors in the case, Linda Geffin, who wrote: “I felt compelled to step forward [because] of the improper injection of race into the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck’s case.”
Former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, a conservative Republican who now serves on the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee, had moved to secure new hearings for defendants sentenced to death in circumstances similar to Buck’s, with Cornyn saying: “It is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system.”
While other wrongful convictions were overturned, Buck fell through the cracks in a broken legal system. Despite appeals to Perry—and to the state’s notorious Board of Pardons and Paroles—Buck got no reprieve. Perry’s “very thoughtful, very clear process” was about to kill a man sentenced to death at least in part because of his race.
Buck’s execution was set for Thursday night, and Buck was already two hours into a six-hour window when he could have been executed, when the Supreme Court intervened. The justices sent an urgent communication that a “stay of execution of sentence of death…is granted.”
The court determined that it needed to weigh the argument, brought by Buck’s attorneys, that “racial bias mars the integrity of the judicial system. An execution under these circumstances will do irreparable harm to the criminal justice system in general.”
Perry could have granted the stay.
Lawyers and criminal justice advocates pleaded with him to do so.
But the governor refused.
It took the last-minute intervention of the US Supreme Court to prevent the injustice.
Perry thought the process was working splendidly—at least for the purposes of his presidential campaign.
But the High Court thought differently.
“We are relieved that the US Supreme Court recognized the obvious injustice of allowing a defendant’s race to factor into sentencing decisions,” said Busk’s attorney, Kate Black. “No one should be put to death based on the color of his or her skin.”