Cop killer gets new punishment trial

October 1, 2009 4:50:14 AM PDT
The man who murdered Houston Police Officer James Irby nearly 20 years ago got a big win in court Wednesday when the decision that sent him to death row was overturned.The district attorney's office says it will seek the death penalty again. And the officer's former partner and widow aren't too happy about what happened.

The appellate court basically said the jury didn't have all the information when they sent Carl Wayne Buntion to death row back in 1991. It's important to note the conviction stands, he's still guilty for shooting Officer Irby in the head during a minor traffic stop in 1990, but his long-lasting legal saga continues.

It's been almost 20 years since paramedics desperately tried to save Officer Irby from a fatal gunshot. For Buntion, there's been a conviction, a death sentence, reversal, reversal of the reversal, and now one more.

Buntion gets a new punishment trial. Irby's friends and family get to suffer all over again.

"It's been a really difficult day for all of us," said Irby's widow, Maura.

We spoke with Maura by phone. Both she and their children who were just toddlers when their father was murdered now live in Austin. She was hoping Buntion would get his execution date within the next year. Now she must prepare for a new court date.

"It's going to be painful and difficult for them and for me to hear it all again and I had hoped we'd never see this day, but we'll get through it," said Maura.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Buntion's jury did not get to consider a troubled childhood and mental health issues during the punishment phase of his original trial. Therefore Buntion gets a do-over on sentencing.

Though a new jury won't be deciding guilt or innocence, the DA's office will still have to dig up all the old evidence and witnesses.

"It's a pretty involved process. There is a lot of evidence in this case and there were a lot of witnesses, so even with an abbreviated version of guilt, it's not a quick process not a one day trial," said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hardaway.

That's part of what concerns Gary Blankinship.

"I think it's a waste of the taxpayers' money," said Blankinship.

He's the current president of the police union, but was Irby's partner.

"I remember seeing Jim's helmet lying there all bloody on the concrete. I think about that all the time," said Blankinship.

They were close friends. This is very personal to him. Though the DA's office will seek the death penalty again, Blankinship worries about what will happen if they don't get it. In 1991, life with no parole wasn't a possibility and 1991 standards will still apply.

"If he's given life in prison instead of the death penalty on a resentencing, he could be released back on the streets and possibly kill someone else," said Blankinship.

Because of the publicity, Buntion's original trial was held in Fredricksburg. The new punishment phase will be held here in Houston. No date has been set. Buntion will stay on death row until the prison receives a bench warrant requesting his return to Harris County.

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