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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Court grants Duane Buck relief that could remove him from Texas death row

Duane Buck
Duane Buck
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Texas death-row inmate Duane Buck the right to pursue his claims of ineffective counsel and relief under a rule that covers mistakes and neglect - a move that could spare him from execution.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race improperly tainted Buck's death sentence and remanded the case to the lower court for a new hearing.

In a two-page ruling filed Thursday, the federal appeals court also ordered him released unless the state initiates proceedings for a new trial for punishment within six months or "elects not to seek the death penalty and accedes to a life sentence."

Buck was convicted in Houston 20 years ago for the killings of his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend, Kenneth Butler. He was sentenced to death after a psychologist testified he would be a continuing threat to society because he is black.

The case, which has made national headlines for years, could be a harbinger of how the country's highest court deals with death penalty cases with racial overtones, experts have said.

After February's decision, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said her office would review Buck's case, including speaking with the victims' families and looking over mitigation evidence, before deciding how to proceed.

"Racially charged evidence has no place in any courtroom, and this administration will not tolerate its presence," she said. "We remain committed to seeking justice for the victims of Duane Buck's heinous criminal acts and will do so without what Chief Justice Roberts described as the 'strain of racial prejudice' present at the 1997 trial in which Buck was convicted."

Source: Houston Chronicle, Cindy George, April 13, 2017

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