Sentenced to Death for Being Black: The Duane Buck Story

Duane Buck

Racial bias has no place in the administration of justice – tell that to Harris County, Texas. Duane Buck, sentenced to death in Harris County in 1997, may soon be at risk of execution despite the fact that his death sentence is the clear product of racial discrimination.

A powerful newly released video exposes the outrageous discrimination in Mr. Buck’s case:

As the video shows, at Mr. Buck’s 1997 capital sentencing hearing in Harris County, the trial prosecutor elicited testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a future danger because he is black. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing in favor of a death sentence. The jury then found Mr. Buck would be a future danger and sentenced him to death.

Three years later, then-Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cornyn identified seven cases in which Texas improperly relied on testimony linking race to future dangerousness, including Mr. Buck’s. The Attorney General promised not to oppose new sentencing hearings for these seven defendants. Texas upheld this promise in all of the cases – except for Mr. Buck’s.

It is high time for Texas to keep its promise and ensure that Mr. Buck receives the fair, colorblind sentencing that all defendants are entitled to.

Mr. Buck’s shocking case has prompted outcry from the civil rights community, faith leaders, elected officials, and numerous other prominent individuals in Texas and across the country. Even one of Mr. Buck’s trial prosecutors and the surviving victim in the case support a new, fair sentencing hearing.

Tens of thousands of people from Texas and nationwide have also joined the chorus of support by signing an online petition urging the Harris County District Attorney’s Office not to seek an execution date for Mr. Buck. Sign the petition!

Brave New Films

You can read more additional background information here.

A new sentencing hearing for Mr. Buck is critically important to the integrity of our entire justice system. We must not tolerate sending a man to his death based on the color of his skin.

Tell Texas to uphold the promise made by former Attorney General John Cornyn and grant Duane Buck a sentencing free of the stain of racial bias.

Sign the Petition

Editor’s Note: This post was provided to RLC by Duane Buck’s legal team

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  • Digger

    Even though this is what the NAACP said also–that “he was sentenced to death because he is black”–this is the OPPOSITE of what the Supreme court said in the other cases. Buck has not been granted a new sentencing hearing because the other cases–based on exactly the same evidence–HAVE had new hearings, and in each of those cases the death penalty was reapplied and has been upheld by the Supreme court, which said that the evidence was only a small part of the case, and not significant enough to effect the sentence of death.
    If we can continue to bog down the courts with cases in which we already know the outcome–which is a violation of US legal precidence procedure–why can’t we drag Row vs. Wade back through the courts EVERY time an unborn baby is due for execution at an abortionist’s office?

  • Frank

    If true, sentencing someone strictly for their race is completely unacceptable.

    For the full story we need to hear from the brother of this man victims:

    My sister, Debra Gardner, was one of the victims fatally shot by convicted murderer Duane Edward Buck. For what has seemed an eternity, my family has been forced to cope with media reports and opinion pieces that all have been favorable to this cold-blooded killer.

    With a heavy heart, I am compelled to respond.

    My response is not motivated by anger, but out of a sense of fairness and love for my sister and her children. I am a Christian and, just like some of Buck’s supporters, I believe that it is my responsibility to stand up and speak out for what is right. It saddens our family that not one of Buck’s advocates has the human decency to reach out to our family and educate themselves as to what our family has endured over the past 18 years as the direct result of Buck’s horrendous act.

    Both my mother and stepfather are now deceased; however, the anguish, hurt, devastation and oppression they felt from my sister’s murder lasted until the day that each of them passed. There are no words to describe what we, the victims’ families, continue to endure as we listen to the half-truths and misleading facts reported by the media and Buck’s supporters about his case.

    Buck’s supporters assert that he is deserving of mercy, with several arguing in a Houston Chroniclecommentary (Page B9, March 10) that he is not a mass murderer, and that his crime was one of passion and not a carefully planned or deliberately orchestrated murder. These representations are wholly inaccurate given the chronology of the offense.

    Buck first arrived at my sister’s home between 3 and 4 a.m. that Sunday morning – unarmed. He kicked his way through the front door and proceeded to follow Debra into her bedroom where he struck her several times. Debra called 911; when Duane heard the police sirens, he started to leave. Police asked Debra if she wished to press charges; she declined, stating she just wanted him to leave. Buck apologized for his actions, left the residence and drove to his mother’s home, located about 25 miles across town.

    Buck returned to my sister’s house three hours later, this time armed with two guns. He kicked the door in, and once inside the house, walked over to the couch where his sister, Phyllis, had been sleeping, and shot her point-blank in the chest. Despite her serious injuries, Phyllis survived.

    Buck then shot Kenneth Butler as he was trying to flee from the house. Butler sustained a close-range gunshot wound to the chest and lay dead in the hallway of my sister’s home. Three young children – Debra’s 13-year-old daughter, 11-year-old son and 12-year-old niece – also were present in the house. They had to step over Butler’s lifeless, bloody body to get to a phone and call 911.

    Debra ran out into the street, where Buck followed after her with shotgun in hand. Debra fell to her knees and begged Buck to spare her life. The three children stood in the doorway of Debra’s residence watching. Shennel, Debra’s 13-year-old daughter, ran and jumped on Buck’s back, clinging to his neck and shoulders and yelling for him not to shoot her mother.

    Both mother and daughter cried and pleaded for Buck to stop. Shennel screamed, “Duane, don’t shoot! Duane, don’t shoot … don’t kill my mama!” Buck gazed down at Debra, aimed his shotgun at Debra’s chest and pulled the trigger. She fell back in a pool of her own blood, as the three children cried and screamed in shock. After he was arrested and in a police car, Buck smiled and joked, saying, “The bitch got what she deserved.”

    Buck’s supporters also contend that he was unfairly sentenced to death and that there has been a grave injustice in his case. While I am cognizant of the prejudices that exist in our judicial system, I find that the account of Buck’s trial propounded by his supporters is grossly skewed and deceptive. I attended every day of Buck’s trial. There was no injustice.

    The prosecution did not make the case about Buck’s race. The prosecutor worked hard to secure justice for the victims who, like Buck, were black. Buck received the assistance of numerous highly educated and specially trained individuals at trial and in appealing his conviction. The propriety of his death sentence has withstood the scrutiny of approximately 23 state and federal judges over an 18-year period, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The real injustice was Debra’s daughter witnessing her mother being gunned down in the middle of the street as she hung on to Buck’s back begging for her mother’s life.

    A grave injustice was Debra’s children having to spend the remainder of their childhood without their mother. The grave injustice was the senseless loss of life.

    Duane has had 18 years to reflect, to talk to his family, to laugh with them, to cry with them. For 18 years, they have been able to communicate with him. Not so for us.

    As Duane’s supporters advocate for justice, I ask for greater consideration of the circumstances of the crime and not the misrepresentations about injustice that have been perpetuated. The Bible tells us to take no satisfaction in the death of a murderer; therefore, I am neither advocating for or against the death penalty. I simply speak for my sister and as an advocate for her children. The loss, the drama and the devastation they have suffered surrounding their mother’s death is beyond measure. My sister died with tears and fear on her face. To this day, I can still see it. Her children still dream about it.

    This is not a case of innocence or injustice. Many are taking a stand for a confessed and convicted murderer. I cannot fathom how anyone can read the events as they occurred and still believe that justice was not served for Duane Buck.

    Smith lives in the Houston area.

    • Frank

      The down voters should be ashamed of themselves. Everyone take note of who they are.

      • 22044

        I wish we could see them. There are some petty people on these forums.

        • Frank

          I know. I don’t care if people like me or not but this families voice deserves a hearing whenever speaking about this case. Just another example of this biased, politically motivated site. Reality and facts be damned.

          • Oswald Carnes

            May all the victims’ families be reunited in the eternal bliss of paradise very soon.

          • annoyedbybleedinghearts

            No bliss for you

          • Frank

            This is not me. Our coward is back at it!

            -the Real Frank

          • Snommelp

            It was just the old disqus glitch, Frank.

          • Frank

            Yes its frustrating.

          • Snommelp

            No kidding. I’m sure someone must have informed disqus about the glitch by now, right? So maybe we’ll see it fixed in the next update, or sooner.

          • annoyedbybleedinghearts

            Your calling me a coward?

          • Frank

            No. It’s was the Disqus bug fake out.

        • John

          There’s no use in seeing them, 22044. And it’s not for us to know who they are. I’m glad Frank posted that long comment. I would encourage you to rise above the negativity. It’s worth neither your time or energy.

          So many tragedies, piled on top of one another. I’m totally opposed to the death penalty, so the legality of the case doesn’t actually affect me much. It seems clear he was guilty. I’m just struck by the sad tragedy of it all. And I can’t help but think, what if she had pressed charges? It all would have turned out very differently.

          This is one of those situations where it’s hard to see God’s hand through such a murky lens.

          • 22044

            John, as you can see, the “guilty dog” barked. At least one of them. I usually don’t comment to that effect, but in this case, it worked.

            Like Frank, it doesn’t bother me – it just hurts the site. But that’s up to the site to assess.

          • 22044

            I don’t oppose the death penalty on principle, but I have concerns about it when so many death penalty cases are often connected to prosecutorial misconduct.
            I really like Digger’s comment above. Why do so many death penalty opponents have beams in their eyes and become mush-mouthed when asked to confront the evil of abortion?
            And I like Frank’s first comment. Many death penalty opponents also aren’t willing to wrestle with the question of how to achieve some level of justice for the victims of the crimes. Also myopic and immature.

          • John

            I just fear that good ideas are being clouded by reactions against people. Calling people myopic and immature just makes them defensive, and makes the accuser sound vindictive. I think asking someone who is anti-death penalty and pro-choice to justify that stance is a great question. But when names and accusations get slung around, you get away from the strength of the original statement, and the original argument.

          • 22044

            If someone wants to present their take in a reasonable manner I am more than willing to listen.
            Your point may be valid but it assumes that I am making the first points here (which in this forum admittedly is…), but I see plenty of advocacy elsewhere in the manner I mentioned, with the arrogance to back it up.

          • Frank

            Its been my experience that people only get defensive when faced with something true that they have yet to face.

    • John

      Thanks for this, Frank.

      • Frank

        Thanks John! this is a perfect example of what I was talking about yesterday. It unconscionable that RLC would just accept and post this from the lawyers for this man without giving us the full story.

        • John

          To maybe add some perspective, I can tell you that one man takes care of about 2000 enquiries a week. 300 a day. That’s just e-mail. And he has other responsibilities. It can be easy to judge based on a misunderstanding, or just thinking it’s incompetence. They are really trying to get good work out there. And I think they generally do a good job. I just wanted to add some insight into the situation.

          • Frank

            I can appreciate that but what halfway decent journalist would accept a post form the lawyers from one side of the issue and not ask any questions?

            I don’t care how busy someone is there is no excuse for this. This is absolute new low.

            “Editor’s Note: This post was provided to RLC by Duane Buck’s legal team”

    • dudleysharp

      thank you frank

  • jhelpman

    No one should be put to death because of their race. This Duane Buck guy should know, because he put two people to death for really good reasons.

  • jonathan starkey

    Lord have mercy on us.

    • John

      Sometimes the simplest statements are best, and cover our multitude of sins. Thanks, Jonathan.

  • Val

    This article is too close to me to comment on, I just wanted to say I really appreciate they way it was handled by RLC. Thank you.

  • Ray

    This post is disgusting. I don’t agree with the death penalty. But RLC should consider the victims families before they post biased crap like this. Buck was not sentenced for being black, but for being a cold blooded killer.

  • John

    Maybe the larger conversation is why 53% of murderers, 50% of murder victims, and 41% of inmates on death row in the US are blacks. This case seems to be getting lost in an argument, which is actually distracting from a real American societal problem, involving institutionalised poverty and violence

    • Frank

      There are so many real and pressing issues that his case could have highlighted. Its embarrassing that post is sill up unedited.

      • John

        Frank, I really think if you would stop with the attacking tone that you would engage people much more effectively. I mean that as an encouragement. You have good things to say. I know you think that you’re calling a spade a spade and when people get defensive, it’s because you’re speaking truth. But I think you’re not changing people in a positive way when you attack, and that’s what the gospel is about.

        Just something to think about. Not the message, necessarily, but just the way it’s conveyed.

        • Frank

          I speak plainly and straightforwardly. Its what I expect from others and its what I give to others. Truth can be offensive. The greatest truth there is, the Gospel, is offensive to some. I am not equating what I say with the Gospel just that love requires unedited truth.

          Its not really about the messenger its about the hearer. You are a good example. You engage with me. You might get offended and interpret my succinct style as attacking but you still listen and engage. That’s a credit to you. That’s a credit to your open heart. More people should be like you.

          • John

            Thanks, Frank. That’s very kind.

  • SamHamilton

    I don’t support the death penalty, but it doesn’t sound like there’s any particular miscarriage of justice here. He’s not being punished because of the color of his skin. He killed those people.

    • Snommelp

      Yeah, that does seem entirely correct. On the one hand, the argument isn’t that he was convicted because of his race, but rather that race is the reason he got death instead of life. But on the other hand, this happened in Texas, the state with the highest rate of executions in the nation, so it’s not like him getting sentenced to death is all that peculiar. Also, I can’t find any statistics for Texas regarding racial bias in executions, but based on the national statistics racial bias in this particular case would be hard to prove.

  • dudleysharp

    Duane Buck: Racism Claims Are Total Fabrication
    Dudley Sharp

    Falsely invoking racism, as with the Duane Buck case, is just another example of how death penalty opponents will apply any deception, no matter how vile, to achieve their ends (1).

    The problem for Buck and his supporters is that Dr. Quijano’s entire testimony, with regard to Buck, specifically, was that Buck was at reduced risk of being a future danger, the opposite of the death penalty opponents claims. No surprise.

    From US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, IN FAVOR OF BUCK: “In this case, first on direct examination by the defense, Dr. Quijano merely identified race as one statistical factor and pointed out that African-Americans were over represented in the criminal justice system; he did not state a causal relationship, nor did he link this statistic to Buck as an individual”

    In fact, the opposite occurred. Dr. Quijano’s testimony was about Buck’s reduced risk of future danger.

    The alleged racist component from the trial never existed.

    Sotomayor attempted to create a racism based claim, by taking a prosecutor’s inference out of context, an inference which never stated that Buck was at future danger based upon race, as Dr. Quijano stated that Buck was at reduced risk of re offending and never stated that Buck had an elevated risk because of race, nor did anyone.

    “Moreover, the prosecutor did not revisit the race-related testimony in closing or ask the jury to find future dangerousness based on Buck’s race.” (2).

    Even Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) Justice Alcala (3) , who dissented, IN FAVOR OF Buck, recognized Sotomayor’s obvious error:

    Alcala writes: “As to (Buck’s) second claim (based upon racism) , I conclude that (Buck) has failed to make out a prima facie case for discriminatory intent in the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty in his case.” (3).

    Not even the perception of “intent”, much less any statements to that effect.

    Alcala thought this such a minor issue that she didn’t even bother to respond to that claim in the body of her opinion, but in a footnote (3).

    That is how untruthful or gullible Buck supporters have been.

    Death penalty opponents fabricated a dishonest claim of racism. Despicable but nothing new (1, 5 & 6).

    balance at

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