Former Governor Encourages New Hearing for Death Row Inmate

Former Texas Gov. Mark White on Wednesday joined supporters of a convicted killer who contend the prisoner's death sentence was unfairly based on his race.

Duane Buck was sentenced to death for killing his ex-girlfriend and a man at her Houston apartment in July 1995. During the punishment phase of his trial, a psychologist testifying for the defense said black people were more likely to commit violence -- which Buck's advocates say unfairly influenced the jury and is grounds for a new sentencing hearing.

"The way to determine punishment in this country is with a fair trial and sentencing, and Mr. Buck did not receive that," White said.

White, a Democrat and former state attorney general, presided over 19 executions during his tenure as governor from 1983 to 1987. But in recent years, he has become more vocal in questioning the propriety of the death penalty in some Texas cases.

On Wednesday, he delivered a statement to Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, who was not in office at the time of Buck's 1997 trial, that was signed by civil rights leaders, elected officials, clergy and others. A new hearing, White said, "is absolutely necessary to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system."

Anderson's spokeswoman, Sara Marie Kinney, said the district attorney has given Buck's lawyers an opportunity to present the case again to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal appeals court.

"We simply are waiting on their ruling and we will act accordingly," she said.

In 2000, Buck's case was among six cases that then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, said needed to be reopened because of racially charged statements made during the sentencing phase. In the other five cases, new punishment hearings were held -- and each convict was again sentenced to death.

State attorneys have said the racial reference during Buck's sentencing phase was a small part of larger testimony about prison populations. In Texas, jurors must decide on the future danger of an offender when they are considering a death sentence.

Two years ago, Buck was within a six-hour period set for his execution when the U.S. Supreme Court gave him a reprieve. The high court decided months later not to review his case and lifted the reprieve, and the justices have refused a request from Buck's lawyers to reconsider that decision.

He does not now have an execution date.

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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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