UPDATE: Supreme Court Halts Controversial Texas Execution As Perry Hits Campaign Trail in Iowa
UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court tonight halted the scheduled execution of Duane Edward Buck while it examines his request for a new sentencing hearing, according to the Associated Press. "If the court decided against the writ, the justices said the reprieve would be lifted, making Buck eligible for receiving a new execution date," the AP'sMichael Graczyk reported.
For Texas Gov. Rick Perry, frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, executions are good politics. Just look what happened at last week's Reagan Library debate: Perry won an enthusiastic round of applause from the largely Republican audience when moderator Brian Williams of NBC noted that the Texan had overseen more executions than any governor in U.S. history (234). And if things go Perry's way tonight, it will be 235, with the addition of the execution of Duane Edward Buck, scheduled to take place while Perry hits the campaign trail in Iowa. A jury handed Buck the death sentence after a witness stated that he was likely to be more dangerous than other criminals because he is black.
Buck is hardly a sympathetic character. He shot his ex-girlfriend and her friend to death in front of her children, and shot and wounded his own step-sister in the same incident. But the sentencing hearing at which Buck was condemned to death was tainted with racist testimony. Here Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune explains:
Buck's guilt is not in doubt, but his lawyers and supporters argue he deserves a new sentencing trial because race was a factor during his original sentencing in 1997. Dr. Walter Quijano, a psychologist the defense called as a witness, said that Buck would not likely be a future danger to society. But during cross-examination, prosecutors asked Quijano whether he believed the fact that Buck was black increased his potential threat to society. Quijano said yes. The jury sentenced Buck to death.
Similar testimony from Quijano tainted the cases of five other defendants in other capital crimes; they were all granted new sentencing hearings on the recommendation of John Cornyn, then the state attorney general (and now a U.S. senator). For unknown reasons, Buck was not given the same consideration; the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles ruled not to grant a new hearing. As I write, Buck's execution remains scheduled for tonight, pending word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether or not it will hear Buck's appeal.
Were he in the state, Perry could grant a 30-day stay of the execution. But having gone instead to Iowa, where he is no doubt honing his tough-guy image, he has effectively punted the decision to Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst, whose spokesperson told the Tribune that he would not comment on the case until all of Buck's court appeals were exhausted.
At the Reagan Library debate, Perry made it clear that he is untroubled by the numbers of executions over which he has presided -- even though at least one of those is widely believed to have been the killing of an innocent man, based on tainted testimony. When an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham turned up contradictory evidence to the testimony that led to the Willingham's arson conviction, Perry replaced three of the commissioners. Asked by Williams if he ever lost sleep wondering if any of those executed had been innocent, Perry replied:
No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which If someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process. They go up to the Supreme Court of the United States if that's required. But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved in another crime and kill one of our citizens you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas. And that is you will be executed.
When Williams followed up with a question about what Perry thought the applause for his death-penalty record meant, Perry said, "I think Americans understand justice. I think that Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment."