Texas set to execute man in racially-charged Houston murders

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 15, 2011 9:03 AM
Texas set to execute man in racially-charged Houston murders

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Tex (Reuters) - Texas on Thursday is set to execute a Houston man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and another man in front of the woman's children, and then telling police that she "deserved what she got."

Duane Buck, 48, is set to be put to death by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time. His would be the 11th execution in Texas this year and the second this week. Two more executions are scheduled in Texas for next week.

The impending execution of Duane Buck, who is black, is tinged with racial controversy. His defenders -- who include a survivor of the shooting and a former prosecutor -- blame his sentence on courtroom testimony by a psychologist who said black men are more likely than other races to be repeat offenders after they are released from jail.

"If you're going to try a man for what he has done, at least let it be fair," said Phyllis Taylor, a sister of Buck, who has forgiven him for sticking the barrel of the rifle into her chest the night of the shooting and pulling the trigger.

But death penalty advocates say he was treated fairly, and point out that the psychologist in question had stipulated that Buck himself was not a continuing threat.

"There's no cause to reverse the case based on the racial issue because the expert on numerous occasions said, 'I don't care what the evidence is about blacks reoffending more, this is not the case with this guy,'" said Dudley Sharp, a victims-rights advocate in Houston. "And that's all you need."

Buck was convicted in 1997 of capital murder in connection with the deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler, who were shot to death with a shotgun one night as they were hanging out with friends at Gardner's house.

Gardner had been Buck's girlfriend and their relationship ended a week before the shootings. Early in the morning on July 30, 1995, he forced his way into Gardner's house, argued with her, hit her and then grabbed his belongings and left, according to a report by the Texas Attorney General's office.

A few hours later, he returned with a rifle and a shotgun and began blasting at people in the house, the report said. The first person he shot was his sister, Taylor, who said he was on drugs and described his eyes as "bloodshot" and his voice as unrecognizable.

"He was full of many, many spirits and demons," Taylor said. "So I know when I was looking at him, talking to him, with the gun in my chest, I know he wasn't himself."

Then, according to the report, Buck accused Butler of sleeping with his "wife," and then shot him to death in the hallway. Then he chased Gardner out into the street, with her children close behind, and killed her while they watched, the report said.

When police arrived, Buck was trying to leave the scene but he was arrested after the survivors identified him as the attacker. The report said that he laughed when he was being arrested and, after an officer told him it was not funny, Buck responded: "The bitch deserved what she got."

Buck had a history of drug and weapons charges, and jurors heard testimony from an ex-girlfriend who said he had threatened her, the report said.

But they also heard from the psychologist, who was called by the defense and said under questioning by prosecutors that his research showed black men were more likely to offend again if they were let out of prison.

Buck's case was one of nine inmates identified at the time by then-Attorney General John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, who were sent to death row in sentencing hearings that included the psychologist's testimony.

Speaking about another case, Cornyn said in a 2000 news release that it was "inappropriate" to use race as a factor in sentencing and suggested the cases could be ripe for new sentencing hearings.

Several of them received those new hearings and were given the death penalty again. Buck never got another hearing, based partly on the fact that the psychologist had been called by the defense, not the prosecution, according to reports.

Texas has the country's most active death row, executing more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Buck's execution would be the 34th in the U.S. in 2011.

(Editing by Greg McCune)