Death Row Inmate Gets New Hearing, Supreme Court Cites Racial Bias, Ineffective Counsel

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Michael MarksFebruary 22, 2017 1:59 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The Supreme Court today ordered a new hearing for a black Texas death row inmate whose trial the court majority says was tainted by racially charged testimony. In 1995, Duane Buck of Houston was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and another man.

An expert witness testified during the trial that Buck was statistically more likely to be violent because he is black. Chief Justice John Roberts, in a 6-2 court opinion wrote that Buck received ineffective counsel and should be allowed to continue appealing his conviction.

A Houston judge filed a federal lawsuit over a mandatory training video that he says violates his religious beliefs. Judge Gary Suttles, an administrative judge at the Social Security Administration for 12 years says he and other Social Security Administration employees were instructed to watch a 17-minute training video about LGBT awareness in the workplace.

Suttles refused, telling his supervisor he already knew how to treat all people with respect, and that watching the video conflicted with his religious views. The supervisor offered to allow the judge to read a transcript of the video instead, which Suttles declined to do.

The judge asked to take a different training course, that wouldn’t conflict with his faith, but his superiors wouldn’t allow him to do so. Suttles was then informed that he could face disciplinary action if he did not watch the video. He subsequently lost his privilege to work from home and to ask for a transfer, according to the lawsuit.

Suttles is asking to be exempted from watching the video, and to be free from further disciplinary action.

High-level nuclear waste may be headed to West Texas – but Bexar County doesn’t want to be a stop along the way.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering an application to store spent nuclear fuel from Waste Control Specialists of Andrews, which is located about 35 miles north of Odessa.

Yesterday the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court passed a resolution opposing the transport of nuclear waste through San Antonio. Citizens and the commissioners expressed concerns that a derailment or a terror attack on a train carrying the waste would present an unacceptable risk.

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, former director of the Texas chapter of the advocacy group Public Citizen, testified at the meeting. “There are about a hundred nuclear plants in the United States, 90 of which are east of (San Antonio.) And what that means is if this stuff is transported out to Andrews County, then it’s likely to come on the up routes or other high–quality rail routes through Texas…if you’re exposed to an unshielded nuclear rod that was in say, south Texas for 90 seconds, it will kill you.” he says.

Precinct 4 commissioner Tommy Calvert says his constituents have been more outspoken about this issue than almost any other to come before the court. “A single train car would likely contain as much plutonium as was in the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki. That is alarming, that is a risk that is not worth our community taking.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still taking public comment on the Andrews proposal. If approved, the first shipments of waste would be shipped in 2021, according to the San Antonio Express-News.