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Duane Edward Buck should be dead by now. He was sentenced to death for the July 1995 shooting murders of his ex-girlfriend and her male friend, but has managed–at least for the moment–to beat the executioner through a technicality.

Mr. Buck’s guilt has never been in doubt. He shot his own sister moments after committing the double-murder for which he was condemned, but she managed to survive and has worked to save his life.

Believe it or not, Buck’s ethnicity is at the heart of his appeal regarding the death sentence he earned.

Before I go any farther, please allow me to explain how the modern death penalty arose inTexasand how it works.  (Also, please don’t stop reading for another reason; I have a proposal at the end of this blog entry.)

Okay, back to the show…

In 1967, there were many, many questions regarding the execution of criminals:

Was race a factor?

Was the decision to pursue a death sentence tantamount to a lethal game of ‘cow-patty bingo’?

Had we evolved to a point where killing people as punishment for crimes, no matter how heinous, was no longer acceptable?

If we did kill them, how should that happen?

Firing squads? Hanging? Decapitation? Cyanide gas? Electrocution?

A considerable number of cases related to death sentences were headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, so a gentleman’s agreement was reached with the states’ attorneys general and their federal counterpart that no executions would take place after mid-1967…at least until the high court had time to consider every angle, every question relating to the taking of a human life.

Most of the cases were consolidated into one, which was known by the name of the lead parties, Furman v. Georgia, that era’s legal equivalent of Armageddon, was argued on 17 January, 1971.

Rulings in most cases argued on that date would have been issued in June, October at the latest.

This was legal Armageddon, so the ruling was not issued until seventeen months later, on 29 June, 1972.

The ruling didn’t merely divide the nine-member court, but shattered it. Two Justices ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional under any circumstances. The other Justices agreed that the death sentences still passed constitutional muster, but differed on exactly under what circumstances they could be executed upon criminals.

The main ruling–that which at least five Justices could agree upon–found that the death penalty as then applied was as capricious as a lightning strike, disproportionately fell upon minorities (those of non-white ethnicity) and were sometimes the result of limited choices presented to trial jurors.

Al states, the U.S. Federal criminal justice system and the U.S. military were instructed to amend their capital statutes so that jurors had more choices, the range of crimes carrying a possible death sentence was reduced and sentencing jurors had the chance to hear both evidence regarding a defendant’s future danger and mitigating circumstances regarding the crime or the defendant’s background.

Methods of execution were left for future rulings.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court does not hear moot cases, reinstating the death penalty in theUnited Statesrequired amending the laws, sentencing people to death and having those amended laws reviewed upon appeal.

That appeal was Gregg v.Georgia, the ruling for which was issued on 2 July, 1976, and this is an explanation of theTexasstatute which was upheld in that ruling:

Capital murder in Texas is defined as involving one of the five situations:

murder of a peace officer or fireman;

murder committed in the course of committing kidnapping, burglary, robbery, forcible rape, or arson;

murder committed for remuneration (contract killing);

murder committed while escaping or attempting to escape from a penal institution; and

murder committed by a prison inmate when the victim is a prison employee.

Upon conviction of the offence of capital murder and after presentations in the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors must consider the following:

1–Does there exist a probability the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence which would constitute a “continuing threat to society”? (“Society” in this instance includes both inside and outside of prison; thus, a defendant who would constitute a threat to people inside of prison, such as correctional officers or other inmates, is eligible for the death penalty.)

2– Taking into consideration the circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the defendant, are there sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment rather than a death sentence?

3–(for conspiracy or ‘law of parties’ cases) Did the defendant actually cause the death of the deceased, intend to kill the deceased, or ‘anticipated’ that a human life would be taken?

If question one (and three, if applicable) is answered ‘yes’ and two is answered ‘no’, then a death sentence is automatically recommended to the judge, otherwise a life sentence is imposed.

Now, getting back to Mr. Buck, his appeal stems from the testimony of psychologist Walter Quijano, who stated under cross-examination that Buck’s ethnicity posed a risk factor for future violence.

Quijano offered similar testimony in six sentencing hearings. The defendants in the other five received new sentencing hearings and all were resentenced to death.

Buck’s fusillade against three people, coupled with the deaths of two, were more than sufficient to warrant his death sentence.

Simply put; Mr. Buck wasn’t sentenced to death for his skin, but his crimes…two murders and a near-lethal assault on his sister.

Still, I have a proposal to improve the criminal-justice system by completely eliminating any chance of racial prejudice.

Fair Capital Sentencing Act of 2012

Effective 1 January, 2012:

Upon conviction of a capital crime, the defendant shall be remanded into custody pending the selection of a new jury for a separate sentencing trial.

The defendant shall have the right to observe the jury selection and sentencing trial from a separate room, via one-way closed-circuit television and communicate with his or her counsel via a private audio communications system such as Interrupted Feedback (sometimes called interruptible foldback) or a Talkback.

The defendant may give testimony from a separate room, via an audio channel which has been digitally-altered to remove any ethnic identifiers, with a raw-feed provided to counsel for both prosecution and defense, and the judge.

The defendant’s family, friends and any other character witnesses may also testify in a similar manner.

Under no circumstances shall the defendant personally appear in court during the sentencing trial. Violation of this provision shall result in a mandatory mistrial.

The defendant’s family may only attend the sentencing trial while seated behind opaque dividers sufficient to prevent jury members from glimpsing them. If such accommodations are not available, the defendant’s family may monitor the trial with him or her. Violation of this provision shall result in a mandatory mistrial.

Upon being informed of a verdict, the judge shall have the defendant brought into the courtroom and provide him or her a chance to address the bench before announcing the sentence.

Any death sentence shall be immediately submitted to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for review.

Any death sentence imposed on or after 1 January, 2012 shall carried out by the administration of nitrogen gas through a mask for a duration of not less than ten minutes.


One Comment

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