Hangman Hangs Fire

Case included racially biased testimony

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Sept. 23, 2011

Duane Buck
Duane Buck

The U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 15 halted the execution of Duane Buck, who was slated to die for a 1997 double murder in Houston. At issue is whether racially biased testimony tainted Buck's sentencing hearing. Questioned by a prosecutor about whether the fact that Buck is black would increase his likelihood of presenting a danger to the public if not sentenced to die, psychologist Walter Quijano, a defense witness, replied that it would. The stay came after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined Buck's bid for clemency. It's in effect while the Supremes review Buck's appeal, which contends that he should be granted a new sentencing hearing.

And on Sept. 20, the Supremes stayed the imminent execution of Cleve Foster, sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 rape-murder of 28-year-old Nyanuer Pal in Fort Worth. Foster maintains he's innocent and that Shelton Ward, who was also tried and sentenced to die for the murder, acted alone in killing Pal; Ward died in prison of natural causes last year. This is the third time Foster's date with death has been stayed. At issue is whether his trial attorney failed to present expert evidence to support Foster's claim of innocence.

And as we go to press Sept. 21, the state is set to carry out another execution, sending to the gurney Lawrence Brewer, one of three men convicted in the dragging death murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper in June 1998. The men chained Byrd to the rear of a pickup truck and dragged him down a rural road, decapitating him. Brewer and accomplice John King were sentenced to die for the murder; the third convicted participant, Shawn Berry, fingered as the driver of the truck, received life in prison. Byrd's grisly demise led to the eventual passage by state lawmakers of Texas' hate crimes statute.

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