A Texas man’s lethal injection was halted at least temporarily at the eleventh hour on Thursday night, as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take a look at the role of racism in his sentencing. Duane Buck, convicted of shooting his girlfriend and a man in her apartment in 1995, is not arguing his innocence, but his lawyers claim that testimony from a psychologist who said black people are more likely to commit violence swayed the jury during punishment proceedings. Buck’s stay of execution was granted within the six-hour window in which he might have been killed yesterday, with appeals to both the Supreme Court and Governor Perry pending. Buck had already eaten his final meal — “fried chicken, salad, French fries, fried fish, jalapeño peppers and apples,” the Texas Tribune reports — when the court’s decision came down. Lawyers for Buck sent Perry’s office a letter requesting a one-time, 30-day reprieve on Wednesday, but since Perry is out of state campaigning, the decision will come today from his lieutenant governor. The court’s decision, though, takes a bit of the pressure off.
Former Texas Attorney General and current congressman John Cornyn, a Perry ally, said in a review more than a decade ago that six cases including Buck’s should be re-examined for issues of racial testimony during sentencing. In all five of the other cases, the convicted was again sentenced to die.
Last week, Buck’s appeals for clemency to the Perry-appointed Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles were denied. Perry himself has granted stays of execution four times, including in one case in which the convicted was later put to death, but not, for example, in the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who might have been exonerated by new evidence and refuted testimony.
Perry has overseen 235 executions as Texas governor, with two more scheduled for next week. That’s more than any governor in modern times, a fact that earned the current front-runner a hearty round of applause at the fourth GOP debate.