Black Texas Inmate Seems Likely to Win at Supreme Court | NBC Southern California
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Black Texas Inmate Seems Likely to Win at Supreme Court

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    TX Dept. of Correction/NBC 5 News
    Duane Buck was condemned for the July 1995 slaying of his ex-girlfriend and a man at her Houston apartment.

    The Supreme Court left little doubt Wednesday that it will side with a black Texas prison inmate who argues improper testimony about his race tainted his death sentence.

    The justices often are divided on death penalty cases, but conservatives and liberals alike agreed that inmate Duane Buck is entitled to a new court hearing.

    The only issue in arguments at the high court appeared to be whether to throw out Buck's sentence altogether and order a new punishment hearing. The court also could merely instruct lower courts to decide whether the death sentence can stand.

    Buck has been trying for years to get federal courts to look at his claim that his rights were violated when jurors were told by a defense expert witness that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black.

    In Texas death penalty trials, one of the "special issues" jurors must consider when deciding punishment is whether the defendant they've convicted would be a future danger.

    "What occurred at the penalty phase is indefensible," Justice Samuel Alito said in a comment that was widely shared by the six other justices who asked questions Wednesday. Justice Clarence Thomas asked no questions, as is his custom.

    UK Police: 'Fatalities' at Grande concert

    [NATL] UK Police: 'Fatalities' at Grande concert

    British police on Monday said an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena left at least 19 people dead and 50 wounded.

    (Published 53 minutes ago)

    The high court appeal is not a broad challenge to the death penalty in Texas, the nation's leader by far in carrying out 537 executions since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume. Rather, it shows the justices' heightened attention to the process in capital cases, from sentencing to execution. This is especially true in older cases, like Buck's, in which the quality of defense lawyers is at issue.

    The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused attempts by Buck's attorneys to reopen the case, blocking them from moving forward with an appeal contending Buck's constitutional right to a competent lawyer was violated.

    WATCH: Pippa Middleton Post-Wedding Kiss

    [NATL] WATCH: Pippa Middleton Post-Wedding Kiss

    Pippa Middleton and James Matthews kiss after their wedding at St Mark's Church in Englefield, England, on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Middleton, the sister of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, married hedge fund manager James Matthews in a ceremony Saturday. Her niece and nephew, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, were in the wedding party, along with sister Kate and princes Harry and William.

    (Published Saturday, May 20, 2017)

    Buck's case was among six in 2000 that then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn in a news release said needed to be reopened because statements by the expert witness, Dr. Walter Quijano, were racially charged. In the other five cases, new punishment hearings were held and each convict again was sentenced to death. Cornyn, a Republican, is now the state's senior U.S. senator.

    Buck's lawyers contended the attorney general, by then Cornyn's successor Greg Abbott, broke a promise by contesting his case, although the 5th Circuit said while that circumstance was "odd and factually unusual," they could find nothing in the case record to indicate the state made an error or promised not to oppose any move to reopen the case. Abbott now is the state's governor.

    The 'Greatest Show on Earth' Says Goodbye

    [NATL-NY] The 'Greatest Show on Earth' Says Goodbye

    The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that has wowed crowds for 146 years with its "Greatest Show on Earth" is taking its final bow on Sunday.

    (Published Sunday, May 21, 2017)

    Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the appellate ruling Wednesday because he said there is ample evidence to support a death sentence.

    Buck, now 53, does not dispute that he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, 32, about a week after breaking up with her, and another man in 1995. He also shot his stepsister, who survived.

    ‘T-Rex’ Spooks Horses on City Street

    [NATL] ‘T-Rex’ Spooks Horses on City Street

    A person in a Tyrannosaurus Rex costume allegedly growled at a pair of horses pulling a carriage in Charleston, South Carolina. The horses were frightened and caused the carriage to jackknife, injuring the driver.

    (Published Friday, May 19, 2017)

    Buck at the time was on parole after serving about a year of a 10-year prison term for delivery of cocaine. He also had a previous conviction for unlawfully carrying a weapon.

    Still, no justice appeared to endorse Keller's argument that the appellate ruling should be upheld.

    'Not Going to Stop': Haley Promises Support for Syrians

    [NATL] 'Not Going to Stop': Haley Promises Support for Syrians

    Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spent two days in Jordan and toured the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees on Sunday. She said that the Trump administration's stated intent to slash humanitarian aid worldwide would not affect U.S. support for the crisis in Syria.

    (Published Sunday, May 21, 2017)

    Christina Swarns, Buck's lawyer at the Supreme Court, sought at one point to place Buck's case in the broader context of issues of race in the criminal justice system, telling the justices that the need to eradicate racial prejudice "is as urgent today as at any time in our nation's history."

    The debate at the court was mostly over how the justices might rule in Buck's favor.

    Three Men Arrested in Death of 6-Year-Old

    [NATL] Three Men Arrested in Death of 6-Year-Old

    Three young men were arrested hours after a 6-year-old boy was found shot dead in his mother's stolen car near Jackson, Mississippi on Thursday, May 18, 2017. Authorities say the suspects will be charged with capital murder.

    (Published Friday, May 19, 2017)

    The justices could decide there was a "constitutional violation in this case and the court of appeals was wrong to say there wasn't," Chief Justice John Roberts said. Such a ruling would result in a new sentencing hearing for Buck.

    Justice Elena Kagan said a decision instead could focus on the appeals court's approach to inmates who wish to reopen their cases in unusual circumstances, which would leave the decision on the death sentence to a lower court. Such a ruling might affect other inmates in the three states covered by the 5th Circuit — Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

    Fox News Founder Roger Ailes Dies at 77

    [NATL] Fox News Founder Roger Ailes Dies at 77

    Fox News broke the news of the death of founder Roger Ailes Wednesday morning, months after Ailes was ousted as chairman and CEO following a series of sexual harassment allegations. 

    (Published Thursday, May 18, 2017)

    Kagan cited figures produced by Buck's lawyers that prisoners in the 5th Circuit are far less likely to be allowed to pursue their appeals than prisoners in other Southern states.