Six more Texas death sentences may be overturned

State attorney general finds biased testimony


HOUSTON - Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the death sentence of a Texas inmate because of racially biased testimony in his case, the state attorney general announced that six other convicted killers are likely to get their death sentences overturned for the same reason.

A two-month investigation by Attorney General John Cornyn focused on capital cases involving Walter Quijano, a clinical psychologist who has often served as an expert witness for prosecutors across Texas in sentencing hearings.

On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously vacated the death sentence of a convicted murderer, Victor Saldano, because Quijano had testified that race could be considered a factor in determining whether Saldano should receive the death penalty.

On Friday, Cornyn announced that Quijano had provided similar, racially charged expert testimony in six other cases of inmates now on death row.

Cornyn's staff has notified defense lawyers representing the six inmates that his office will not object if they seek to overturn the death sentences based on Quijano's testimony.

"The people of Texas want and deserve a system that affords the same fairness to everyone," Cornyn said in a statement released by e-mail late Friday.

This new development does not mean that these inmates will be set free. In fact, Cornyn asked the Supreme Court to vacate Saldano's death sentence so that he could hold a new sentencing hearing "in which race is not considered."

Under Texas law, a jury must consider whether a defendant could be "a continuing threat to society" when deciding the death penalty.

In the case of Saldano, who is an Argentine national, Quijano advised jurors that the defendant could be considered more dangerous based on the premise that Hispanics were "overrepresented" in prisons.

In his review, Cornyn found eight capital cases involving Quijano but only six involved racially charged testimony.

Cornyn also said his staff had reviewed the files of the 218 inmates executed in Texas since 1982 and found that none of those executions were based on "this kind of testimony by Dr. Quijano." His statement did not say whether other experts might have provided such testimony.

The six death row inmates whose sentences will likely be overturned are convicted murderers: John Alba, Carl Henry Blue, Eugene Alvin Broxton, Duane Buck, Gustavo Julian Garcia and Michael Dean Gonzales.

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