Faith leaders protest race in sentencing

Twenty-seven evangelicals are seeking re-sentencing of a murderer condemned to death in a trial marked with racial overtones.

By Bob Allen

Local and national Baptists are among 27 evangelical leaders signing a Nov. 21 letter on behalf of an African-American man condemned to death after his sentencing jury was told he was likely to be a future danger because of his race.

Alan Bean, an ordained American Baptist minister who leads the Arlington, Texas,-based Friends of Justice and David Gushee, were among signers to the letter asking Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to allow a new hearing for Duane Buck, a black man on death row for double murder.

duane buckThe evangelical leaders joined more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges and a former Texas governor advocating on Buck’s behalf after a Texas court of appeals voted 5-3 to reject his appeal and allow the DA’s office to set a date for his death by lethal injection.

Buck was convicted in 1997 for the murders of his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and the man who was with her, Kenneth Butler. He also shot a third person, but she survived.

In testimony, an expert witness listed race among a number of “statistical factors we know to predict future dangerousness.” The psychologist was later cited for giving racially influenced testimony to juries. Seven cases, including Buck’s, were identified. The other six were granted resentencing hearings, but Buck’s was denied.

“As Evangelical Christians, we are disturbed by the impact of racial bias on our justice system,” the faith leaders said. “We are all created in the image of God, and race should never blind us to that fundamental truth in our interactions with others. Racial discrimination in any form is incompatible with Christ’s message in the Gospels – it should have no room in our hearts or in our justice system.”

The letter signers also cited the fact that Buck is now a Christian, who has expressed deep remorse for his crimes and never received a disciplinary write-up during his incarceration.

Others signing the letter included Paul Basden and Jim Johnson, pastors of Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco, Texas; Roger Olson, Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University; Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia in Houston; Shaine Claiborne of The Simply Way in Philadelphia; Fisher Humphreys, retired professor at Samford University; Christian author Brian McLaren; Sojourners founder Jim Wallis; and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, associate pastor of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.