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When fail-safes become failures

Just hours before Texas inmate Duane Edward Buck was to be taken to the death chamber the US Supreme Court halted his execution to investigate charges that his sentence was tainted by race issues .

Buck, an African-American, was convicted of a double-murder in 1995. At trial Dr. Walter Quijano, a psychologist, testified that simply being black made Buck more likely to commit crimes in the future, and thus that he posed a clear danger to society if he was not given the death penalty. The Texas Legislature banned such claims in 2001 – just six years after Buck’s trial.

Dr. Quijano offered similar testimony in five other men's trials who also received the death penalty in Texas. Former Texas Attorney General and current US Senator John Cornyn is among those who have called on the State to re- sentence the men, including Buck, who received death sentences based largely on the color of their skin. All except Buck have since been granted new sentencing trials.

Mr. Buck’s case has clearly slipped through the cracks. When you couple his case with what we all witnessed over the past few weeks for Troy Davis in Georgia, a pattern emerges. Nearly all the fail-safes in place to prevent questionable executions, including the clemency process, failed. In Buck’s case, it forced the Supreme Court to step in. In Davis’ case, the result was an execution under a heavy cloud of doubt.

If we are to believe that the United States death penalty is "working" we must trust it doesn't make mistakes. What then does it mean when the fail-safes themselves are broken?

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