death penalty death sentences Duane Buck Harris County Houston Chronicle racial bias Texas U.S. Supreme Court

Black Defendants Received 12 of Last 13 Death Sentences in Harris County

According to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle, 12 of the last 13 defendants sentenced to death in Harris County have been African American.  The 13th death sentence was handed down last month (October 2011) to Jaime Cole, who is Hispanic.

In her article “Harris death penalties show racial pattern” (November 14, 2011), reporter Lise Olsen  makes these important observations:

  • Eight of 12 African-Americans were sentenced to death during the tenure of Chuck Rosenthal, who resigned as district attorney in 2008 over sexually-charged and racially-tinged emails.
  • Under [current Harris County District Attorney Pat] Lykos, four more African-Americans and one Hispanic also were sentenced to die.
  • More than a third of the state’s current 305 death row inmates came from Harris County. So did half of the 121 black inmates on death row, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data.
  • Blacks account for about half of recent murder arrests in Harris County. But they more often get charged with capital murder than whites or Hispanics, an analysis of more than 300 recent court cases by the Chronicle shows.

The article also notes that “The role of race in capital punishment has emerged repeatedly this year in the unsuccessful appeals by Duane Buck, an African-American from Houston convicted in a double murder.  His 1997 sentencing featured testimony from a former prison psychiatrist who claimed blacks are more dangerous than whites.”  Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Buck’s petition for relief.

This data from the Chronicle reflects statewide racial patterns in sentencing.  According to TCADP’s 2010 annual report, over the last four years, nearly three-fourths of all death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color – 40% African American, 30% Hispanic/Latino, and 2% other.

Read the full article in the Houston Chronicle.

Also read a blog post regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to turn down the petition of Duane Buck by New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.

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