Oct. 6 (UPI) — Duane Buck, a Texas man convicted of a double murder in 1995, will avoid the death sentence and get life in prison due to racist expert testimony used against him during his original trial, according to a new plea bargain with prosecutors announced this week.
Attorneys for Buck, 54, appealed his death sentence and earlier this year won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that agreed expert testimony from a psychologist who said Buck would be a greater danger to society in the future because he was black unfairly influenced the jury’s decision to hand down the death penalty.
In 1995, Buck murdered his girlfriend Debra Gardner and her friend Kenneth Butler. He also shot his own sister, Phyllis Taylor and his friend, Harold Ebenezer, who both survived. Under the plea agreement, Harris County prosecutors dropped the death sentence pursuit in exchange for Buck’s guilty pleas to the two additional attempted murder charges, reported the Texas Tribune.
The two additional guilty pleas netted Buck an extra 120 years in prison on top of his life sentence.
“After reviewing the evidence and the law, I have concluded that, twenty-two years after his conviction, a Harris County jury would likely not return another death penalty conviction in a case that has forever been tainted by the indelible specter of race,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Accordingly, in consideration for Buck pleading guilty to two additional counts of attempted murder we have chosen not to pursue the death penalty.”
Taylor has against a retrial to get the death sentence for her brother.
“Talking about that night is deeply emotional for me,” she said. “So I thank the District Attorney, Kim, for agreeing to this sentence because the thought of going through another trial was just too much to bear.”
But members of Gardner’s family said Buck should be executed for his crimes.
“The boy is a cold-blooded murderer,” said Accie Smith, Gardner’s sister, reported the Houston Chronicle. “He is not a victim of racism. He’s a cold-blood, calculating murderer.”
The issue of racism in Buck’s death sentence gained the case national notoriety and his cause was taken up by some black organizations, including the NAACP, as well as anti-death penalty ministers.
But the victims were also black and Smith said her family was thrown “under the bus.”
“What happened today is a travesty and it’s a disgrace,” she said. “I will never understand why his life is more important than her life.”