HOUSTON – Duane Buck is not going back on death row.
The death sentence he received in 1997 was reversed by the Supreme Court earlier this year because of racial bias.
Buck, 54, was awaiting a rehearing on sentencing in that case, but now, in a deal worked out with prosecutors, he’ll receive a life sentence.
“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.”
The plea deal sends Buck back to prison for life in return for pleading guilty in court Tuesday to two new charges of attempted murder. For each charge, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison that will be served concurrently with the life sentence for capital murder.
“After reviewing the evidence and the law, I have concluded that, 22 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.”
The new charges stem from the same shooting spree that sent him to death row 20 years ago.
In July 1995, after an argument with his girlfriend Debra Gardner, Buck broke into her home and started shooting.
He killed Gardner and a friend, Kenneth Butler.
He also wounded his sister Phyllis Taylor and another man.
He was sentenced to death in the killings of Gardner and Butler, but he was never prosecuted for shooting the other two victims, until Tuesday.
He was within a few hours of execution in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution and eventually threw out the death sentence due to racial bias. A prosecution psychologist had testified Buck would be more likely to reoffend because he was black.
Before court ended, Gardner’s daughter Shennel, who pleaded with Buck not to kill her mother, took the stand to tell Buck she will never forgive him and will always be watching him.
“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.”