U.S. top court backs Texas death row inmate in race case

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By Lawrence Hurley | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Feb 22 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Wednesday ruled in favor of a convicted murderer in Texas who is
seeking to avoid execution after his own trial lawyer called an
expert witness who testified the man was more apt to be
dangerous in the future because he is black.

The court ruled 6-2 that death row inmate Duane Buck, 53,
should get a shot at a new sentence in a state that has executed
more people than any other since capital punishment was
reinstated in the United States four decades ago.

Buck was convicted of fatally shooting his former girlfriend
while her young children watched, as well as another man, during
a 1995 argument in Houston. A police officer testified that
after being detained Buck laughed and said, “The bitch got what
she deserved.”

Clinical psychologist Walter Quijano, testifying as a
defense witness on the likelihood of Buck committing future
offenses, said black and Hispanic people are more likely to be
dangerous because they are “over-represented” among violent
offenders.

Writing for the court, conservative Chief Justice John
Roberts said the testimony was clearly prejudicial to Buck, even
if it was only a small part of the proceeding.

“Some toxins are deadly in small doses,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts said the lower court’s refusal to allow Buck to
challenge his sentence was “a disturbing departure from a basic
premise of our criminal justice system: Our law punishes people
for what they do, not who they are.”

“Dispensing punishment on the basis of an immutable
characteristic flatly contravenes this guiding principle,”
Roberts added.

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas, the court’s only
black member, and Samuel Alito dissented.

Death penalty opponents have pointed to statistics that show
black defendants to be far more likely than white defendants to
be sentenced to die, and argue that racial bias endures in the
American criminal justice system and in death penalty cases in
particular.

Buck was seeking reversal of a 2015 ruling by the New
Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denying his
request for an appeal.

Texas in 2002 allowed six other death row inmates convicted
in trials in which Quijano had given similar testimony to get
new sentencing hearings but objected in Buck’s case.

All six of the prisoners were again sentenced to death.

The office of the Texas Attorney General was not immediately
available for comment.



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