It’s evident that “times have changed” when race is a strong-enough factor to stop the execution of a human being on death row. On the other hand, it’s disturbing to hear that, in court, less than twenty years ago, the color of someone’s skin could be considered a credible factor in sending them to the lethal injection chamber.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to stop the execution of Duane Buck, 48, who 16 years ago was sentenced to death for shooting his ex-girlfriend and a man in her apartment.
Though his guilt was not in question, his lawyers say that the jury in Buck’s case was unfairly influenced after a psychologist testified that Black people were more likely to commit violence.
Yes, the psychologist said, matter-of-factly, that Black people were dangerous.
"You have determined that the sex factor — that a male is more violent than a female because that's just the way it is," the prosecutor stated to psychologist Walter Quijano during the case, "and that the race factor — Black — increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons, is that correct?"
“Yes,” Quijano responded.
Quijano served as an expert psychiatrist who frequently gave testimonies for the prosecution. He often suggested race as a reason that a defendant was too “dangerous” to receive a lesser penalty.
Had his lawyers not pointed out this discriminatory flaw, made in 1995, Buck would be dead today.
The uncertainty of fairness, as seen in Buck’s case, also makes one wonder how some politicians can sleep at night not knowing whether the person they just ordered to be put to death is innocent or not, when the testimony of "experts" like Qijano are allowed to stand.
Oddly enough, in Texas, it seems as though Governor Rick Perry is sleeping just fine. During his 11 years in office, 235 convicted killers have been put to death by the stalwart capital punishment supporter and Republican presidential candidate. Under Perry, Buck’s execution would have been the 11th this year, and the second this week, in Texas.
If a candidate like Gov. Perry, whose state holds the record for capital punishment in the nation, were to become president, could extreme application of the death penalty become the norm in America?
Let’s hope not, but it would not be surprising to see capital punishment become a key issue discussed during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Buck’s case is not the only death row conviction in question, however. He is just one of six convictions reviewed back in 2000 that former Attorney General John Cornyn determined needed to be reopened because of racist references during trial. Who’s to say whether some of those people actually are innocent? Currently, the innocence of death row inmate Troy Davis, as well as his right to due process, is being called for by an international coalition of supporters, as his execution date looms on Sept 21, at midnight, by lethal injection.
Davis was convicted of murder in the shooting death of a Georgia police officer in 1991. Paradoxically, the case, in which seven of nine witnesses have since recanted or contradicted their own testimony, has garnered the support of high-profile advocates, including President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who all say Davis was unfairly convicted.
Whether death row inmates are guilty or not, the Constitution guarantees that even murderers receive equal protection under the law.
With the execution of Troy Davis scheduled to take place only five days away, and the next in-chambers conference happening as early as October 7, it may be time to pray that America's due process of law, not politicians' egos, will prevail.
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(Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)