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"Bizarre and objectionable" but nothing to worry about?

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the latest appeal of Duane Edward Buck, moving the state of Texas one step closer to carrying out an execution that nearly everyone admits is tainted by issues of race. Buck, an African-American, was convicted of a double-murder in 1995. At his trial, psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano testified that simply being black made Buck more likely to commit crimes in the future.

Following Buck’s conviction, former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now a U.S. Senator) admitted that the state had erred in allowing race-related testimony at Buck's trial. Similar testimony resulted in six other death sentences in Texas as well. Every one of those men had a new sentencing hearing – except Buck.

Why? In denying Buck’s appeal, Justice Samuel Alito acknowledged that Dr. Quijano's testimony was both "bizarre and objectionable." But he said that Buck's case was different than the others because it was his own lawyers, rather than the prosecutors, that put Dr. Quijano on the stand and first raised the issue of race during his trial. So if a defense witness says that being black makes someone more dangerous, apparently it’s not a problem?

A recent article by the Houston Chronicle found a disturbing pattern of racial discrimination in death sentences in Harris County – the location where Buck was sentenced to death. All of the last 13 men sentenced to death in the county have been either black or Hispanic. It’s no wonder that racial bias is allowed to stand in death penalty cases when they are operating in that kind of environment.

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