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.

2 thoughts on “Black Defendants Received 12 of Last 13 Death Sentences in Harris County

  1. Today’s Houston Chronicle features an editorial that calls on Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to agree to a new sentencing hearing for Duane Buck (“Racially biased testimony should not stand,” November 15, 2011). Here’s a long excerpt:

    “In January 2009, when Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos took office, she lost no time in making good on her campaign promise to restore that department’s integrity, left in tatters by her disgraced immediate predecessor.

    Among her many innovations, she created programs for the most vulnerable crime victims, pushed for a regional crime lab, improved DNA protocols, and established a post-conviction review unit, which has secured the release of several wrongfully convicted inmates.

    Now, we appeal to Lykos to address another serious issue, and hopefully take steps to see that justice is done: It’s the case of death row inmate Duane Buck, who was convicted in the 1995 murders of his former girlfriend and her male friend, and at issue is whether racially charged statements had played a role in his receiving the death penalty.”

    Read more:

  2. Hello, I’m Hannah and I am currently in year 10 and am studying citizenship at GCSE this year. Our chosen topic to campaign for is the abolition of the death penalty. I would like to leave a comment expressing my opinions about it. I believe that the death penalty is completely unacceptable because it is a breach of human rights and is unfair if the person is wrongly accused or if there is unsufficient evidence. An example of an abuse of this is the Troy Davis case where there was unsufficient evidence supporting his death sentence yet it still went ahead. I find it disgusting that people still have their life taken away from them under incorrect circumstances.

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