Prosecutor in Duane Buck Case Urges Stay of Execution

Today, Linda Geffin, a former Harris County Assistant District Attorney who served as second-chair prosecutor in the capital murder trial of Duane Buck in 1997, called on local and state officials to stay his execution.  In her letter to Governor Rick Perry, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, Ms. Geffin writes that “All of these parties should be motivated, as I am, to do everything within their power to ensure that our justice system is not tainted by unconstitutional considerations of race.”

 

Read the press release and the letter from Ms. Geffin below.

 

For Immediate Release:

Contacts: Kate Black, 303-818-0370

Laura Burstein, 202-626-6868

Monday, September 12, 2011

Prosecutor in Case Where Government Relied on Race Testimony at Trial Urges Texas Officials to Stop Duane Buck’s Execution

Houston, Texas, September 12, 2011 – Today, a former Harris County Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted Duane Buck is urging state officials to halt Mr. Buck’s execution next week because “[n]o individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race.” Linda Geffin, who served as second-chair prosecutor in the State of Texas vs. Duane Buck in 1997, sent a letter this morning to Governor Rick Perry, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, urging them to intervene and stop Mr. Buck’s September 15 execution.

 

In her letter, Ms. Geffin says she “felt compelled to step forward” after reading about the clemency petition and a motion in federal court recognizing that former Attorney General John Cornyn had previously acknowledged the “improper injection of race in the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck’s case.”

 

On May 5, 1997, Mr. Buck was convicted of capital murder in Harris County for the July 1995 shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. A third person, Phyllis Taylor, was also shot, but survived her wound. Ms. Taylor has forgiven Mr. Buck and does not want him executed.

 

During Mr. Buck’s trial, psychologist Walter Quijano testified, based on several factors, that he did not believe Mr. Buck would be dangerous in the future. On cross-examination, the prosecutor elicited improper testimony from Dr. Quijano that the fact that Mr. Buck was African-American increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future. The State urged the jury in its closing argument to rely on Dr. Quijano’s testimony. The jury did so, found that Mr. Buck would be a future danger, and he was sentenced to death.

 

After Mr. Buck’s trial, but while his case was pending on appeal, on June 9, 2000, in a highly-unusual move, then-Attorney General John Cornyn issued a press release calling for the retrial of six individuals who had been sentenced to death based on improper introduction of, and reliance on, race as a factor in sentencing. The Attorney General identified Mr. Buck’s case as one of those six cases, stated that Texas would not contest federal appeals in those six cases, and that if the attorneys for the six identified defendants raised claims challenging the government’s reliance on race at sentencing, the Attorney General would not object.

 

Then-Attorney General Cornyn first confessed error based on the government’s reliance on Dr. Quijano’s testimony in the case of Victor Saldaño. The Attorney General stated: “As I explained in a filing before the United States Supreme Court…it is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system….[T]he United States Supreme Court agreed. The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone.”

 

Despite this concession, the improper racial testimony in Mr. Buck’s case has not been redressed.  Mr. Buck is the only one of the six death row inmates identified by the Attorney General who was not granted an opportunity to have a colorblind sentencing.

 

The clemency petition, which was filed on August 31, asks the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry to intervene.  In it, attorneys for Mr. Buck state: “Five out of the six cases in which Attorney General John Cornyn conceded error resulted in new sentencing hearings. Mr. Buck has not received the same corrective process. The State of Texas cannot and should not tolerate an execution on the basis of an individual’s race, particularly where this State’s highest legal officer has acknowledged the error, not only in similarly situated cases, but in this case.”

 

Ms. Geffin’s letter concludes: “I now join Phyllis Taylor, the surviving victim, in asking for the intervention of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos. All of these parties should be motivated, as I am, to do everything within their power to ensure that our justice system is not tainted by unconstitutional considerations of race.”

 

Ms. Geffin’s letter is attached.

 

The clemency petition can be found at: http://scr.bi/rnZxax.

 

An interview with surviving victim Phyllis Taylor can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/pAKStG

 

For more information or comment, please contact:

 

Kate Black, Texas Defender Service, attorney for Duane Buck, 713-222-7788,kateblack@texasdefender.org

 

Laura Burstein, 202-626-6868laura.burstein@ssd.com

###

Letter from Linda Geffin

September 9, 2011

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard

Austin, Texas 78757

 

Dear Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Governor Perry, Attorney General Abbott & District Attorney Lykos,

 

In 1997, I was employed as an Assistant District Attorney for Harris County, where I sat as the second-chair prosecutor in the State of Texas vs. Duane Buck, a capital case. I left the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in 2000. I am currently the division chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit in the Office of the Harris County Attorney.

 

After I left the District Attorney’s Office, and while Mr. Buck’s case was in state post-conviction proceedings, the Office of the Attorney General recognized that the use of race as a factor in capital sentencing proceedings violates the constitution in a case styled Saldano u. State. Specifically, in a filing before the United States Supreme Court, Attorney General Cornyn wrote that it is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system. On June 5, 2000, the United States Supreme Court agreed by granting, vacating and remanding, as requested, in his Response to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari, in the Saldano case. In a press release dated June 9, 2000, Attorney General Cornyn identified six other cases in which expert witness testimony used race as a factor to determine future dangerousness, including Mr. Buck’s case. He is the only.one of the seven who never received a new sentencing trial.

 

When I read about the clemency petition pending before the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry, and about the motion in federal court recognizing that the Attorney General had previously acknowledged the improper injection of race in the sentencing hearing in Mr. Buck’s case, I felt compelled to step forward. Mr. Buck committed a terrible crime, and he must be punished. But the Attorney General was right when he said that “it is inappropriate to allow race to be considered as a factor in our criminal justice system.” It is· regrettable that any race-based considerations were placed before Mr. Buck’s jury. No individual should be executed without being afforded a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race.

 

I now join Phyllis Taylor, the surviving victim, in asking for the intervention of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Harris County District Attorney Patricia

Lykos. All of these parties should be motivated, as I am, to do everything within their power to ensure that our justice system is not tainted by unconstitutional considerations of race.

 

Respectfully,

 

Linda Geffin

cc: Governor Rick Perry

c/o Office of the General Counsel

1100 San Jacinto Street, Suite 412

Austin, Texas 78701

 

Attorney General Greg Abbott

300 W. 15th Street

Austin, Texas 78701

 

District Attorney Patricia Lykos

1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600

Houston, Texas 77002

 

 

2 thoughts on “Prosecutor in Duane Buck Case Urges Stay of Execution

  1. At least this is a start – to read that in the great so-called Land of the Free that race was mentioned let alone a factor in bringing down the death sentence in this matter is a crime in itself. The death penalty is a blight on the American system of justice and so are the whole of life sentences.

    Duane Buck not only deserves another chance at life he deserves an apology from the President himself, a man of colour, who should not be tolerating this shocking behaviour in the courts of America. But even this black president condones the death penalty so what can we expect of him in this appalling situation.

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