October 3, 2017
Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that race will never be permitted to be used as a factor in a criminal trial, a man who has been on death row for two decades was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison and two 60-year terms.
"The facts of Duane Buck’s heinous crimes are not in dispute. He was a habitual felon who, in a fit of rage, murdered two people and tried to murder two more," Harris County District Attorney Ogg said. "There is no apology or good will or good time that can substitute for the justice of spending his life behind bars in payment for lives he took. However, this case can accomplish something. It can close a chapter in the history of our courts, in that they will never again hear that race is relevant to criminal justice or to the determination of whether a man will live or die. Race is not and never has been evidence."
After Buck, who is African American, was found guilty of capital murder in 1997, his lawyer improperly allowed the jury to consider Buck’s race as it considered whether he should be sentenced to death.
On February 22, 2017, the high court condemned the use of race-based testimony and overturned Buck’s death sentence. The court deemed using race as a "toxin" that poisoned the process.
"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," Ogg said. "Accordingly, in consideration for Buck pleading guilty to two additional counts of attempted murder we have chosen not to pursue the death penalty."
Buck, 54, appeared in a Harris County courtroom Tuesday for a hearing in which he pleaded guilty in the case. He will be eligible for parole in 2035.
He will face the parole board with prior convictions for capital murder, two counts of attempted murder, delivery of cocaine, and possession of cocaine.
"While his legal case ends today, Buck also leaves behind a trail of misery and heartbreak for his victims," Ogg said. "The Harris County District Attorney’s Office will do everything within its power to make certain that Duane Buck is never allowed to walk amongst free society for as long as he shall live."
Buck was convicted of murdering Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler, and attempting to murder Phyllis Taylor and Harold Ebenezer during a July, 30, 1995 attack at a family home on Puerto Vallarta Drive.
The 60 year terms for attempted murder are to run concurrent with the life sentence for capital murder.