WASHINGTON/AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – The Supreme Court gave a reprieve on Thursday to a Texas death row inmate in a case tinged by racial controversy, granting a stay more than 90 minutes after the scheduled time of execution.
The high court issued the stay for Duane Buck, 48, who had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 6 p.m. local time in Huntsville, Texas, for a pair of shotgun murders in 1995 in Houston.
Lawyers for Buck, who is black, appealed to the Supreme Court and said he had been unfairly sentenced because a psychologist testified that black men were more likely than other races to be repeat offenders after their release from prison.
On hearing the news, Buck told prison officials: “Praise the Lord, God is worthy to be praised. God’s mercy triumphs over judgment. I feel good,” according to Jason Clark of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The stay came a few hours after Buck had what he and others thought would be his last meal of fried chicken, salad with tomato, lettuce and cucumber, french fries, fried fish, hot sauce, seven jalapeno peppers, three green or red apples, iced tea and ice water.
Buck’s attorneys had also asked Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, to halt the execution. But the court’s stay means Perry will not have to act.
Perry is a capital punishment supporter and has taken the lead in opinion polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. During his 11 years in office, 235 convicted murderers in Texas have been put to death, the most by far of any state in the nation.
Buck was convicted in 1997 of capital murder in connection with the deaths of his former girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and Kenneth Butler, who were shot to death with a shotgun at her house.
Buck’s relationship with Gardner ended a week before the shootings. Early on July 30, 1995, he forced his way into Gardner’s house, argued with her, hit her and then grabbed his belongings and left, authorities said.
A few hours later, he returned with a rifle and shotgun. Buck accused Butler of sleeping with Gardner and then shot him to death in the hallway. He then chased Gardner into the street, with her children close behind, and killed her.
When police arrived, Buck was trying to leave the scene but he was arrested after the survivors identified him as the attacker. Authorities said that when he was being arrested he told the officer, “The bitch deserved what she got.”
At sentencing, jurors heard testimony from the psychologist, Walter Quijano, who was called by the defense. He said under questioning by prosecutors that his research showed black men were more likely to offend again if they were let out of prison.
Buck’s case was one of nine death row inmates identified at the time by then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn as involving sentencing hearings that included the psychologist’s testimony. Cornyn is now a Republican U.S. senator.
It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for the Supreme Court to stay an execution. The court in a brief, one-paragraph order, said the stay would remain in effect until the court acted on Buck’s appeal. There were no recorded dissents.
Buck’s attorney, Kate Black, said the stay could last just for a week or for a month. but added that the execution “won’t be tonight.”
“We’re just relieved that the court recognized the injustice here and that no one should be put to death based on the color of their skin,” she said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney and Jackie Frank)