The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday halted the scheduled execution in Texas of Duane Buck pending the disposition of his application for a hearing before the court.
That means his execution has been temporarily delayed until the court decides whether to take up his case.
It also means that the spotlight is back on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had declined to delay the execution.
Opponents of the death penalty were furious when, during the Republican debate last week, the audience applauded the fact that Perry has authorized 234 executions while serving as governor.
Steven Woods, executed Tuesday, became the first Texas prisoner executed after the debate. Buck would have been the second.
Buck’s supporters were elated by the temporary stay. His lawyers released a statement expressing hope that the Supreme Court might take up the case.
“We are relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the obvious injustice of allowing a defendant’s race to factor into sentencing decisions and granted a stay of execution to Duane Buck,” the statement said. “No one should be put to death based on the color of his or her skin. We are confident that the court will agree that our client is entitled to a fair sentencing hearing that is untainted by considerations of his race.”
Buck’s lawyers had argued in the lower court that he should not be executed because Texas relied on improper racial testimony that was a basis for his capital sentence.
At trial, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano testified that Buck was African American and his race increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future.
“You have determined,” a prosecutor asked Quijano during cross-examination, that ”the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?”
“Yes,” said the doctor, according to court transcripts.
Buck’s lawyers also pointed out that the former Texas attorney general (and current senator), John Cornyn, had conceded error in Buck’s case and five other cases that had included Quijano’s testimony.
But lawyers for Texas successfully argued in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that Buck’s case was distinguished from some of the other cases that featured Quijano’s testimony in part because it was Buck’s lawyers who called the psychologist to the stand.
Buck was convicted on May 5, 1997 of capital murder in Harris County, Texas, for the shooting deaths of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler. He shot and killed Gardner in view of her children.
Between now and Nov. 16, five more executions are scheduled in Texas. Slated to die are Cleve Foster, Lawrence Brewer, Frank Garcia, Hank Skinner and Guadalupe Esparza.