Troy Davis – Denied!
Duane Buck – Saved?
US Supreme Court halts Texas execution; Georgia Parole Board, okays another.
Huntsville, Texas — The U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution Thursday of a black man convicted of a double murder in Texas 16 years ago after his lawyers contended his sentence was unfair because of a question asked about race during his trial.
Duane Buck, 48, was spared from lethal injection when the justices, without extensive comment, said they would review an appeal in his case. Two appeals, both related to a psychologist’s testimony that black people were more likely to commit violence, were before the court. One was granted; the other was denied.
Buck was sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment in July 1995. Buck’s guilt is not being questioned, but his lawyers say the jury was unfairly influenced and that he should receive a new sentencing hearing. His attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to block the execution, saying a psychologist testified that black people were more likely to commit violence.
Buck’s case is one of six convictions that then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn — a political ally of Perry who is now a Republican U.S. senator — reviewed in 2000 and said needed to be reopened because of the racial reference. In the other five cases, new punishment hearings were held and each convict again was sentenced to die. State attorneys contend Buck’s case was different from the others and that the racial reference was a small part of larger testimony about prison populations.
Perry is a capital punishment supporter and as frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination his actions now are coming under closer scrutiny. During his 11 years in office, 235 convicted killers in Texas have been put to death. His office said he has chosen to halt just four executions, including one for a woman who later was executed.
The reprieve from the nation’s highest court came nearly two hours into a six-hour window when Buck could have been taken to the death chamber. Texas officials, however, refused to move forward with the punishment while legal issues were pending.
His lawyers called to tell Buck of the reprieve and the inmate was praying in his cell when Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark approached.
“Praise the Lord!” Buck told Clark. “God is worthy to be praised. God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.
“I feel good.”
Jackson, Georgia – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it was considering asking President Barack Obama to intervene. Obama cannot grant Davis clemency since Davis was convicted in state court, but could potentially halt the execution by asking for an investigation into a federal issue if one exists, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Dieter said he thought it was unlikely Obama would intervene.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who plans to hold a vigil at the state prison in Jackson on Wednesday, called on supporters to urge Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm to block the execution.
“This is probably the most egregious injustice I have seen in a long time, to set a precedent that a man can be executed when the evidence against him has mostly been recanted,” said Sharpton. “It’s unthinkable.”
Troy Davis case timeline
Chisolm’s spokeswoman, Alicia Johnson, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday. But Chisolm has said it’s unlikely he will seek to intervene.
“What stands between the defendant and execution is the Board of Pardons and Paroles,” Chisolm said Friday. “And I think whatever decision they make in the case will probably be the final decision.”
The U.S. Supreme Court even granted Davis a hearing last year to prove his innocence, the first time it had done so for a death row inmate in at least 50 years. But in that June 2010 hearing, Davis couldn’t convince a federal judge to grant him a new trial. The Supreme Court did not review his case. Federal appeals courts and the Georgia Supreme Court have upheld his conviction, leaving the parole board as his last chance.
MacPhail’s relatives said they were relieved by the decision. “That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we got,” said Anneliese MacPhail, the victim’s mother. “We wanted to get it over with, and for him to get his punishment.”
Amnesty International USA director Larry Cox called the pardon board’s decision “unconscionable.”
“Should Troy Davis be executed, Georgia may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system,” Cox said.
Amnesty International and the NAACP have scheduled a demonstration at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the steps of the Georgia Capitol.
Among those who supported Davis’ clemency request are former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. A host of conservative figures have also advocated on his behalf, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson and one-time FBI Director William Sessions.
Davis, meanwhile, spent the day in the state prison visiting friends, family and clergy members. Wende Gozan Brown of Amnesty International, one of Davis’ visitors, said he was trying to stay upbeat.
“He said he’s in good spirits, he’s prayerful and he’s at peace. But he said he will not stop fighting until he’s taken his last breath. And he said Georgia is about to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”
In its one-paragraph decision, the court said it stopped the punishment so it could further look at Buck’s request, known as a writ of certiori. If the court decided against the writ, the justices said the reprieve would be lifted, making Buck eligible for receiving a new execution date.
“We are relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the obvious injustice of allowing a defendant’s race to factor into sentencing decisions and granted a stay of execution to Duane Buck,” Kate Black, one of Buck’s attorneys, said. “No one should be put to death based on the color of his or her skin. We are confident that the court will agree that our client is entitled to a fair sentencing hearing that is untainted by considerations of his race.”
Buck was convicted of gunning down ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner, 32, and Kenneth Butler, 33, outside Houston on July, 30, 1995, a week after Buck and Gardner broke up. A third person, Buck’s stepsister, Phyllis Taylor, also was wounded, though she has since forgiven Buck and sought for his death sentence to be commuted to life in prison.
Buck’s attorneys went to the Supreme Court after losing appeals in lower courts. A clemency request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, all of whom are Perry appointees, also failed.
Perry was not in the state Thursday, meaning any final order to delay would have come from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. However the court’s ruling meant neither Perry nor Dewhurst had to act on a request from Buck’s lawyers that the governor use his authority to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve.
Assistant Attorney General Edward Marshall had told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Buck’s appeals were attempts to relitigate claims that every court, including the Supreme Court, already rejected.
“The record in Buck’s case reveals that no constitutional violation occurred during his sentencing trial,” he told the justices.
The execution would have been the second this week and the 11th this year in Texas. Two more Texas prisoners are set to die next week.