HOUSTON (AP) — Texas’ longest-serving death row inmate faces execution Thursday for killing a Houston police officer nearly 32 years ago during a traffic stop.
Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was sentenced to death for the fatal June 1990 shooting of Houston police officer James Irby, a member of the force for nearly 20 years.
Buntion had only been on parole for six weeks when he shot Irby, 37. Buntion, who had a lengthy criminal record, was a passenger in the car Irby stopped. In 2009, an appeals court overturned Buntion’s sentence, but another jury sentenced him to death three years later.
Before his death, James Irby talked about retirement and spending more time with his two children, who were 1 and 3 at the time, his wife, Maura Irby, said.
“He was ready to fill out the paperwork and stay home and open a grocery store,” said Maura Irby, 60. “He wanted to be the dad who was there to watch all the ball games and father-daughter balls. He was a great guy, the love of my life. »
Various state and federal courts have denied appeals by Buntion’s attorneys to restrain his execution. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday denied his request for clemency.
Buntion’s lawyers say he is responsible for Irby’s death and “deserved to be punished severely for this crime”.
But they argue his execution would be unconstitutional because the jury’s conclusion that he would be a future danger to society – one of the reasons he was sentenced to death – turned out to be incorrect. Moreover, they said, his execution would serve no legitimate purpose because so much time has passed since his conviction. His lawyers describe Buntion as a geriatric inmate who poses no threat as he suffers from arthritis, dizziness and requires a wheelchair.
“This three-decade delay undermines the justification for the death penalty… Whatever the deterrent effect is, it is diminished by the delay,” his attorneys David Dow and Jeffrey Newberry wrote in court documents.
If Buntion is executed, he would become the oldest person Texas has put to death since the Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976. The oldest inmate executed in the United States at the time modern was Walter Moody Jr., who was 83 years old. when he was put to death in Alabama in 2018.
Buntion would also be the first inmate to be executed in Texas in 2022. Although Texas is the busiest capital punishment state in the nation, it has not been executed for nearly seven months. There have been only three executions in each of the past two years, in part because of the pandemic and delays related to Texas’ refusal to allow spiritual counselors to touch inmates and pray aloud in the death chamber.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court said states must respond to such requests, and Texas prison officials agreed to allow Buntion’s spiritual adviser to pray aloud and touch him during its execution.
Maura Irby said she believed Buntion would die of old age on death row.
“I had stuffed so much into a big trunk and I closed the lid in my mind, in my heart because I didn’t think anything was really going to come out of it,” Irby said.
Although the impending execution brought back painful memories for her, Irby said it also reminded her of her work advocating for public safety after her husband’s death, including helping to craft legislation allowing for victim impact statements during trials.
Irby said she and her two children hoped that with the execution a painful chapter in their lives could finally come to an end.
“So, I hope Jimmy finally rests in peace and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and keep him in our prayers now and in our hearts,” Irby said.
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