Texas County Twice as Likely to Demand Death Penalty for Blacks

A new study shows racial disparities in criminal sentences in Texas' Harris County, where Duane Buck was sentenced to the death penalty.

Posted: 03/14/2013 09:21 AM EDT

New research says that Harris County, Texas, juries are twice as likely to sentence Blacks with the death penalty than they are with whites.

University of Maryland criminologist Ray Paternoster analyzed the influence of race on 504 cases similar to Duane Edward Buck, an African-American who was given the death penalty in the county in 2011. The analysis covers cases between 1992 and 1999.

Buck, 48, was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend and her friend in 1995. Buck’s lawyers argued that his sentence was unfair because of a question asked about race during his trial. In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn said Buck's case needed to be reopened because of racially charged statements made during the sentencing phase.

Raymond Paternoster writes in "Racial Disparity in the Case of Duane Edward Buck":

The probability that the DA would advance a comparable case among defendants who were African-American was about twice as high (.688), and over two and one-half times as high for Hispanic defendants (.857). This disparity is slightly reduced when the jury's decision to sentence to death is examined. Among this group of comparable cases, the probability that a jury would impose a death sentence was .33 in white defendant cases and increased to .438 for Black defendants (1.3 times higher than for white defendants), and .571 for Hispanic defendants (1.7 times higher for white defendants). 

Read the full report here

Buck's attorneys urged a Texas court Wednesday to overturn Buck's sentence and give him a new trial as a result of the "long history of racial discrimination" in the criminal justice system of Harris County, Texas, according to AFP.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted Buck a temporary stay of execution to examine the merits of his case in September 2011 but declined to hear the case in November 2011, allowing the state of Texas to set a new execution date.

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(Photo: Wikicommons)

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