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October 4, 2017

After recent SCOTUS win, Duane Buck gets plea deal to avoid any possible return to death row

As reported in this local article, headlined "Condemned inmate Duane Buck escapes death penalty," a Texas murderer consolidated a recent Supreme Court victory assailing his death sentence with a plea deal that ensure he will not return to death row. Here are the details from the start of the article:

Duane Buck — wearing handcuffs, leg irons and the yellow jail uniform of a high-profile inmate — doubled over in his courtroom chair and sobbed. "I'm sorry," he said.

It was the last act of a decades-long battle to execute the 54-year-old convicted killer for a double murder, ending not with lethal injection but a plea deal in a Harris County court.

Buck's courthouse deal was the third Harris County death penalty case stemming from a successful appeal resolved with a plea bargain instead of a retrial under District Attorney Kim Ogg. Buck, whose case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was sent back to Houston for a retrial because of concerns about racist testimony in his 1997 trial, escaped death row by admitting guilt in the shooting rampage that killed two and injured two others.

The family of Buck's victims, however, were having none of his contrition. "The boy is a cold-blooded murderer," Accie Smith told reporters after the brief hearing. "He is not a victim of racism. He's a cold-blood, calculating murderer."

Smith is one of the older sisters of Debra Gardner, Buck's girlfriend, whom he killed along with her friend Kenneth Butler. After a night of drugs, alcohol and arguing with Gardner in July 1995, Buck broke into her home and shot four people. The victims included his sister, Phyliss Taylor, and his friend Harold Ebenezer, who both survived.

After Tuesday's plea, the slain woman's daughter recounted how she hung from Buck's back as a 13-year-old and tried to keep him from attacking her mother. "You took my mom," said Shenell Gardner. "We both get to live with this. I know what I feel; you feel as well."

The battle to execute Buck began when he was sentenced to die for the slaying of his girlfriend and Butler. After 20 years on death row and several appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year granted Buck a new sentencing hearing because of testimony from an expert who told jurors that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black.

Gardner's family members, who are black, said they felt betrayed by the NAACP and black ministers who took up Buck's cause. "They threw us under the bus. What happened today is a travesty and it's a disgrace," Smith, the victim's sister, said. "I will never understand why his life is more important than her life."

On Tuesday, Ogg said she did not believe prosecutors could secure the death penalty again. The defense team would have shown that for 22 years, Buck has been a model prisoner, so he is unlikely to be a future danger. Also, his sister, whom he shot, has argued for leniency in his case.

Instead of going to trial, Ogg offered Buck the opportunity to admit guilt to two additional counts of attempted murder, hoping to stack the deck when the parole board reviews Buck's case in 2035. "A Harris County jury would likely not return a death penalty conviction today in a case that's forever been tainted by the specter of race," she said. The top prosecutor said she hopes the resolution of Buck's case will mark the end of race being used against defendants in capital cases. "Race is never evidence," Ogg said.

The dilemma with Buck getting a life sentence, by either a jury trial or a plea deal, is that he is sentenced according to the law at the time of the crime. Ogg said it was important to keep Buck behind bars for the rest of his life. A sentence of "life without parole" is not an option, even if both sides agreed to it, because that punishment did not exist in 1995.

Prior related posts on SCOTUS ruling:

October 4, 2017 at 10:27 AM | Permalink


Good candidate for the Italian Death Penalty. The method could or should be worse.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 4, 2017 12:08:44 PM

Basta cazzate ...

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Oct 4, 2017 4:21:09 PM

Claudio. Thank you. I will no longer be using words like Harvard bullshit. I will be saying, Harvard cazzate. Sounds so much more sophisticated, just like the Italian Death Penalty. So smooth, so sophisticated, so pious.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 4, 2017 4:55:47 PM

email sent to the reporter, Brian Rogers, challenging some of the points and an important omission

In a message dated 10/4/2017 11:45:46 A.M. Central Daylight Time, [email protected] writes:

Dear Brian:

Would you be so kind as to forward this to Accie Smith and Shenell Gardner. Let me know.

Hope you are well.

You write: "an expert who told jurors that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black."

In fact, both defense experts stated that Buck was less likely to be a future danger. One expert, after being asked by defense counsel, stated that, yes, both blacks and Hispanics have higher crime rates. The answer was a general review of the known stats, but the experts were very specific that Buck was not part of that general group - Buck was less likely to be a future danger.

Never did either expert state "that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black." and all of their testimony contradicted that statement.

You write: "Instead of going to trial, Ogg offered Buck the opportunity to admit guilt to two additional counts of attempted murder, hoping to stack the deck when the parole board reviews Buck's case in 2035."

This will have no stacking the deck effect, as the well known reality is that the two attempted murders are part of the original crime, with Buck's guilt, already uncontested, long before being part of this plea deal, making the guilty plea, utterly, unnecessary to stacking the deck against Buck.

It is odd that Ogg would find it unlikely that Buck would receive a death penalty, when 100% of all of the other cases, 5 out of 5, in this group, cases overturned for somewhat similar reasons, with all them getting the death penalty, again, in those re-sentencing trials.

Based upon that, it would have been surprising had Buck not received a death penalty in re-sentencing or full re trial.

Sincerely, Dudley

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Oct 5, 2017 11:18:17 AM

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