SCOTUS intervenes in Texas death penalty case on behalf of Duane Buck

Psychologist testified that black people are more likely to commit crimes.

Yesterday, the Supremes stayed the execution of Duane Buck, on the grounds that the jury at his sentencing hearing was told Buck was a danger to the public because he is black:

Duane Buck, an inmate on Texas’s death row for the past 16 years, has been spared the lethal injection after the US supreme court stayed his execution on the grounds that the jury at his sentencing hearing was told he was a danger to the public because he is black.

The fact it took the highest court in the nation to prevent the judicial killing of a prisoner in such controversial circumstances will put the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, further under the spotlight. He was earlier approached by lawyers of Buck and exhorted to use his power to put a 30-day reprieve on the execution to give time for all parties to look at his case, but Perry did not act.

From Mother Jones:

A Texas inmate sentenced to death—in a racially charged case that now-Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said was inappropriately decided—has petitioned Gov. Rick Perry and his state parole board for clemency, giving the GOP presidential candidate two days to decide whether to commute the sentence or grant a temporary stay of execution. Last week, one of the Harris County prosecutors who helped secure Buck’s conviction wrote a letter to Perry urging him to grant a retrial. In 10 years as governor, Perry has presided over 234 executions, more than any other governor in modern history; only once has he granted clemency in a case where the Supreme Court hasn’t already mandated it. Now, just as he steps onto the national stage, Perry will have to make what looks like a tough call—with GOP primary voters watching.

The inmate, Duane Edward Buck, is set to be executed by lethal injection on September 15 for murdering two people at the home of his ex-girlfriend in 1995. The issue at hand isn’t Buck’s innocence, but the means by which his death sentence was obtained. Prosecutors firmly established Buck’s guilt, but to secure a capital punishment conviction in Texas they needed to prove “future dangerousness”—that is, provide compelling evidence that Buck posed a serious threat to society if he were ever to walk free. They did so in part with the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified that Buck’s race (he’s African American) made him more likely to commit crimes in the future. (Quijano answered in the affirmative to the question of whether “the race factor, [being] black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.”)

“Various complicated reasons”? Surely, you jest.

As the Moore/Maher debate rages on for its third day, it is not hard to see the connection between “I voted for the black guy”/”I wish President Obama was more Suge Knight and less Wayne Brady” and “being black increases the future dangerousness.”

To not understand the racism in Moore and Maher’s statements is to be willfully ignorant.

As for Rick “The Executioner” Perry, hopefully his nutbag supporters will have one less execution to cheer.

[via Ta-Nehisi Coates; image via Guardian]

Please don’t forget about Troy Davis. His clemency hearing is on Monday.

[cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

59 replies
  1. 1
    John Cole says:

    Race-baiter. Why does John Cole continue to allow you to ruin the website by trolling the front page?

  2. 2
    John Cole says:

    Figured I’d just get that the fuck out of the way before the emails start pouring in.

  3. 3
    Woodrowfan says:

    Oh sure, you see racism in EVERYTHING! (yes, I’m teasing).

    I want to know more about this Dr. Walter Quijano. Has he testified in other cases???

  4. 4
    Loneoak says:

    “Various complicated reasons”?! I would flunk any paper from my students that used such a stupidly vague phrase. And my students ain’t prosecuting capital cases, thank FSM.

  5. 5
    Paul in KY says:

    Personally, I think that if he did do what they say he did, he should be executed. That is just my personal philosophy.

    You can see, though, that the testimony by the ‘expert witness’ was terrible/biased and should never have been allowed by the judge. He should, due to this miscarriage of justice, be allowed to serve a life sentence (IMO).

    I don’t hold out any hope that Gov. Precious will do the right thing.

  6. 6
    lacp says:

    Even the liberal John Cornyn……what kind of judges were presiding at these trials? And where the hell did this ‘psychologist’ come from?

  7. 7
    geg6 says:

    the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified that Buck’s race (he’s African American) made him more likely to commit crimes in the future. (Quijano answered in the affirmative to the question of whether “the race factor, [being] black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.”)

    I saw this story on the news this morning and immediately thought “I wonder how many of the asshats on the ABL threads are looking at the shit they said about how tough black men are are looking at themselves today and thinking they finally get it?” I’m guessing >1.

  8. 8
    Rick says:

    Like the Kentucky Head-stomping for Rand Paul, I’m expecting this to give Perry a bump in the polls. (That is, he ordered it, but big gubmint stepped in an interferrred with teh carryin out of teh justiss).

  9. 9
    c u n d gulag says:

    At least this “expert” witness was being honest about his opinion!

    How many others are on Death Row, or left it postumously, because that was the unspoken opinion of expert, and unexpert, witnesses?

    There’s a reason the proportionality of the races is askew on Death Row.
    And it has nothing to do with propensity of African Americans being more likely to commit crimes, and everything to do with racism and economic injustice.

    I love you ABL!

  10. 10
    mistermix says:

    @geg6:

    I’m guessing >1.

    I’ll take the under on that.

  11. 11
    Gilles de Rais says:

    Very surprised that SCOTUS lifted a finger. I don’t believe for a moment that the Murdering Five Majority think there was any actual miscarriage of justice here, they’ve let pretty much any possible abuse of the death penalty process slide without a peep of objection. Also gotta wonder why John Cornyn is stepping up in such a vocal fashion.

    Everyone’s got their eyes on 2012, but I don’t understand what the Party That Cheers Murder thinks they gain out of this. And make no mistake, they’re the ones, from SCOTUS on down, calling the shots on this.

  12. 12
    Mino says:

    Not the first black eye for the Texas Criminal Justice Dept. How many disgraced Medical Examiners here in Texas whose cases had to be retried; how much police and prosecutorial misconduct has been uncovered? How many Texans have been framed for drug offenses. Remember Tulia?Local press has been good on this issue, but it keeps on happening because nobody gets punished.

    There really is no justice in the US.

  13. 13
    Alex says:

    @Woodrowfan:

    The psychologist has testified in seven other death penalty cases– all the others had the sentences retried.

  14. 14
    Rick says:

    This would seem to imply that the SCOTUS believes that you can’t consider a person’s race in handing out capital sentences. Which, for various complicated reasons, would mean that the vast majority of executions would be stopped if they were consistent in their own logic.

    I know, I know, the difference is that the racism was explicit in this case, as opposed to the socially and legally accepted implicit kind.

  15. 15
    cleek says:

    there’s a good comment at TNC’s place about this.

    i don’t know how to link to a particular Disqus comment however, so go here and search for “Scott Galiger”.

  16. 16
    4tehlulz says:

    @Gilles de Rais: They have a vested interest in keeping Rick Perry away from the keys to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

  17. 17
    Mino says:

    Knowing our SCOTUS, I’m wondering how they will manage to make matters worse for criminal defendants.

  18. 18
    kd bart says:

    I want pie!!!

  19. 19
    Ecks says:

    It’s pretty simple: Observing that various groups have statistical propensities is ok: Women really do spend more hours per week shopping than men (marketers have measured this in great detail), Blacks in America really do wind up in jail at a higher rate than Whites (criminologists have established it time and again).

    Making statements about the causality behind these associations (e.g., “Blacks end up in jail more because…”) is often dangerous and explosive turf, but can be ok if done in a VERY informed and dispassionate way – much Academic research follows this track.

    What is categorically NEVER ok is applying any of these patterns to a specific person. Doing so elevates their group membership as more important than the entire rest of their person-hood. It takes a real person with their own thoughts, feelings, values and life history, and throws all that away in favor of a single small demographic factoid.

    In summary, it is EVERY BIT AS WRONG to say: “you are male, I guess you’re a tall physically aggressive wealthy rapist who doesn’t shop much” (all things that really are statistically associated with men), as it is to say to a black man: “well I guess you’re a danger to society and/or would make a bad ass president”.

    Case closed, end of story.

  20. 20
    Roger Moore says:

    @lacp:

    what kind of judges were presiding at these trials?

    Ones who were elected on a platform of punishing criminals as severely as possible. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them were clear about what race the most dangerous criminals were likely to be, either. This is a key danger of an elected judiciary.

  21. 21
    Citizen Alan says:

    As the Moore/Maher debate rages on for its third day, it is not hard to see the connection between “I voted for the black guy”/”I wish President Obama was more Suge Knight and less Wayne Brady” and “being black increases the future dangerousness.”

    It’s also not hard to see that the Moore/Maher debate is raging on for its third day in large part because of your desire to demagogue the issue (mostly likely, IMO, out of a desire to permanently neuter high-profile critics of Obama by staining them as unrepentant racists on par with Bull Connor). As I said yesterday, I DO think that what Moore and Maher said was racist in the sense of attributing broad character traits to people based on their skin color and in the sense of being unhappy with Obama because he does not meet their personal expectations of how a black president would act. That attitude is racist in nature. Period, full-stop.

    HOWEVER, I also happen to think that there is a WORLD OF DIFFERENCE between (1) expressing the racist idea that a black president should be more sympathetic to the needs of the down-trodden and oppressed and more willing to pursue aggressive tactics against clearly racist opponents and (2) expressing the racist thought that all black people are inherently dangerous and should be killed wherever possible! Frankly, I find your apparent desire to draw a connection between Moore and Maher’s ignorant and ill-conceived remarks and the homicidally bigoted nature of the Texas judicial system to be repellent.

  22. 22
    cmorenc says:

    @lacp:

    Even the liberal John Cornyn……what kind of judges were presiding at these trials?

    1) Only a prosecutor who’s BOTH incompetent and viciously unethical would ask such a blatantly racist question, and needlessly risk having any death sentence won be overturned and possibly face ethics sanctions from his state bar.
    2) Only a defense attorney who’s incompetent would fail to vigorously object to the question before the witness could even begin to make any answer.
    3) Only a judge who’s incompetent, racially biased or both would fail to object instantly on his own initiative to a prosecutor’s question like that (or fail to sustain a defense objection thereto), and not allow the witness to proceed with any sort of answer to it.

    Really, there are SO many superficially nonprejudicial questions available to prosecutors (and answers to their “experts”) which indirectly, but effectively sound “dog whistles” having the same pitch as this overtly racist question did, that a prosecutor should be considered massively incompetent to ask it the way he did.

  23. 23
    EconWatcher says:

    I’ve never in the past thought that a candidate’s stance in favor of executions could hurt him politically. But in Perry’s case (for purposes of the general election, of course), I’m not so sure.

    An aggressive focus on the Willingham case, with particular emphasis on the cover-up, might take a toll with moderates. Cut from a news story describing how he aborted the probe into the case, then to him saying in the recent debate that he’s lost no sleep over any of the executions on his watch. Let people remember that as he plays his genial cowboy routine.

    People say he’s handsome, but he always looks ghoulish to me.

  24. 24
    cmorenc says:

    @EconWatcher:

    People say he’s handsome, but he always looks ghoulish to me.

    Perry will come across to many independents as the genial sociopath that he in fact is, with a skin of pseudo-Christian morality covering rottenly corrupt flesh underneath. He’ll remind them of someone they’ve known in their personal life who’s glib, slick, affable, but whom they wouldn’t trust for a moment behind their back.

  25. 25
    sfHeath says:

    @cleek: Thanks, cleek, that really was a good comment. It’s always nice to have some context available when an issue is of interest.

  26. 26
    ant says:

    to secure a capital punishment conviction in Texas they needed to prove “future dangerousness”—that is, provide compelling evidence that Buck posed a serious threat to society if he were ever to walk free. They did so in part with the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified that Buck’s race (he’s African American) made him more likely to commit crimes in the future.

    Just odd. Setting aside the testimony, it strikes me funny that the punishment would be different for certain people who are more likely to commit a certain crime.

    What’s next, higher speeding ticket fines for teenagers? Higher sentences for check fraud for poor people? Bigger voter fraud penalties for Republicans?

    Shouldn’t our justice system treat all people the same?

  27. 27
    MathInPA says:

    I read this one first on dKos, and it made one point that frightened the HELL out of me.

    The stay was granted by Scalia. Justice “The Constitution Says Fuck You, Endangered Classifications” Scalia. Now, it’s just a stay pending resolution by the court, if I understand it right…

    But this means that there is a clear line in the sand — well, on the horizon– on morality that demonstrates that Rick Perry is a less moral person than Antonin Scalia.

    That scares me even more than I already was.

  28. 28
    Special Patrol Group says:

    Hey, lay off, this is merely a sampling of Dr. Walter Quijano’s closing bit from his one-man show, Killer Komedy Kavalcade:

    Black People are recidivist like this, White People are recidivist like this.

  29. 29
    Shade Tail says:

    @mistermix:

    I’ll take the under on that.

    Yeah, I’m going to have to go with you on that. The folks in question have never really impressed me before…

  30. 30
    Brian says:

    It is shit like this… well let us just say shit like Texas that makes me wonder why we allow the death penalty. I understand eye for an eye… blah blah. I don’t think we should be allowed to take a life without being 100% sure. And no skin color does not count.

  31. 31
    Ecks says:

    @ant: @ant: Not really. Future likelihood to commit crime has always been one of the major considerations in sentencing. If someone seems remorseful, and the criminal episode seems to have been a one-off activity then you only need to jail them long enough to punish the crime itself. If they have fallen into a pattern of criminality (or, worse, a psychiatrist diagnosis them as a psychopath with a high ongoing likelihood to inflict further terrible acts), then protecting the public is part of law-enforcement’s mandate, and longer sentences are absolutely appropriate.

  32. 32
    ABL says:

    @John Cole: Well-played, sir.

  33. 33
    ant says:

    @Ecks: ok.

    Yeah, I was further reflecting on my comment, and wondering about sex offenders….. and how their incarceration times are determined…

    thanks for your comment.

  34. 34
    Dollared says:


    The fact it took the highest court in the nation to prevent the judicial killing of a prisoner in such controversial circumstances will put the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, further under the spotlight. He was earlier approached by lawyers of Buck and exhorted to use his power to put a 30-day reprieve on the execution to give time for all parties to look at his case, but Perry did not act.

    Hunh? There is zero evidence that this is a political liability in any way.

  35. 35
    Dollared says:

    @cmorenc: Oh yeah, that worked really well with George Bush. They saw him execute that woman and mock her death face, and said, “no way is that genial sociopath ever going to be my president.”

    I’m sorry, but do you really believe what you said? How?

  36. 36
    Roger Moore says:

    @ant:

    Just odd. Setting aside the testimony, it strikes me funny that the punishment would be different for certain people who are more likely to commit a certain crime.

    I don’t see that as odd at all. Prison is supposed to serve several purposes. Yes, it’s supposed to punish and rehabilitate criminals, but it also functions to keep dangerous people segregated from the rest of the population. Likelihood of re-offending obviously has to factor into a decision of who is safe enough to release and who is so dangerous they have to be locked away for good. IMO it would be far stranger to treat somebody who you knew was likely to commit murder again exactly the same as somebody you knew was unlikely to do so.

    ETA: I see Ecks has gotten here before me.

  37. 37

    @ant: #26

    Shouldn’t our justice system treat all people the same?

    Next you’ll be agitating for “equal justice for all.”

    Hippie. :-)

    Seriously though, this whole case is just mind boggling.

  38. 38
    Mark S. says:

    This has gotta be a 9-0 reversal? Right?

    And who the fuck are the idiots on the Texas Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals who rubber-stamped this?

  39. 39
    Berial says:

    Strange isn’t it. Republicans claim government is flawed, imperfect and can’t do anything right. Except executions.

  40. 40
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Roger Moore:

    No candidate for judge or D.A. ever lost an election by promising to be tougher on crime and criminals than their opponents.

  41. 41
    Roger Moore says:

    @ant:

    Yeah, I was further reflecting on my comment, and wondering about sex offenders….. and how their incarceration times are determined…

    Yeah, some of the more recent changes to treatment of sex offenders is really troubling. I’m sure there are some sex offenders who really are permanent dangers to the community, but the current trend of treating everyone who’s ever committed any kind of sex crime as an incurable pervert is just crazy. I also find the general trend- most clearly show with sex offenders but not at all limited to them- of making life outside as difficult as possible for ex-cons is incredibly counterproductive. How can we expect people to stop being criminals if we make it impossible for them to live an ordinary life once they get out of prison?

  42. 42
    Joey Maloney says:

    @lacp:

    what kind of judges were presiding at these trials?

    The kind that want to be reelected in Texas. Next question?

  43. 43
    Mark S. says:

    @cleek:

    Huh, that’s wild. The psychologist in question was called by the defense. That kind of throws a monkey wrench in there.

  44. 44
    Woodrowfan says:

    @Alex:

    Alex, thanks. jeezes..

  45. 45
    Arclite says:

    @John Cole:

    Race-baiter. Why does John Cole continue to allow you to ruin the website by trolling the front page?

    That was pretty hilarious. My coworkers heard me laughing…

  46. 46
    ABL says:

    @cleek: interesting. thanks.

  47. 47
    blueneck says:

    …and the teabaggers wept.

  48. 48
    Barry says:

    @lacp: “Even the liberal John Cornyn……what kind of judges were presiding at these trials?”

    Texan.

  49. 49
    rikryah says:

    @MathInPA:

    that is indeed frightening.

  50. 50
    BDeevDad says:

    Evidently, this is not the first time prosecutors in Texas have asked Quijano if race plays a factor. I wonder how many trials he has actually testified in.

    Saldano had received a death sentence in part due to profoundly troubling testimony by a state expert witness at the sentencing phase of his trial. The expert, a clinical psychologist named Walter Quijano, suggested that Saldano should be executed because, as an Hispanic, he posed a special risk of future dangerousness to society. To support this astonishing conclusion, the expert pointed out that Hispanics make up a disproportionately large amount of Texas’ prison population.

  51. 51
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @Mark S.:

    If the guy had a public defender, I can see that happening. One PD told me that his group are either trying to land a good job at some law office and failing that, getting a job in the prosecutors office was just fine. To that end, there is a lot of elbow rubbing and backroom talking between some PDs and the prosecution in the hope of the PD making a ‘friend’ in the prosecutor’s office. Just because someone is assigned a PD doesn’t mean that the person they have assigned to them is looking out for their best interests.

    After all, the PD needs to move up the career ladder too.

  52. 52
  53. 53
    Nathanael says:

    I have no idea what the fuck is wrong with Texas. This is one the more egregious example of racism and sexism in a trial, but in fact there’s a long, long record of allowing made-up bullshit to execute people in Texas, period. (Cameron Willingham, is that the name of the innocent guy they executed?) Anyway, I have no idea how one fixes a system so broken that even Scalia, Mr. Election Theft himself, can notice it.

  54. 54
    The Sailor says:

    @Alex: It should be noted that in this case the psychologist was testifying for the defense.

    They knew he would testify that race a mitigating factor.

    I hate the death penalty, but this is like a guy who murdered his own parents and pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.

  55. 55
    burnspbesq says:

    @cmorenc:

    and possibly face ethics sanctions from his state bar.

    Doubtful. You and I may think this goes beyond zealous advocacy, but CW is that prosecutors get a lot more leeway than the rest of us, and it that’s true, it’s likely to be especially true in Texas.

    Case in point: has anyone at DOJ that was involved in the Siegelman fiasco faced any ethics investigations?

  56. 56
    burnspbesq says:

    @MathInPA:

    You’re reading too much into the fact that it was Scalia who entered the stay order. He gets all the emergency motions from the Fifth Circuit. We are unlikely to ever know, but I am willing to bet a substantial sum of money that Scalia will vote to deny cert.

  57. 57
    Svensker says:

    @Berial:

    Strange isn’t it. Republicans claim government is flawed, imperfect and can’t do anything right. Except executions.

    Don’t forget surveillance, torturing and bombing!

  58. 58

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  59. 59
    bryan says:

    its a move to secure the Perry nomination. Perry wanted to kill a black man but liberal judges wouldn’t let him! No conservative can resist that! Obviously the judges arent really liberal but to a conservative any judge that thwarts a conservative wish is a liberal activist judge.

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