Jury re-sentences convicted cop killer Carl Wayne Buntion to death row

March 6, 2012 6:09:01 PM PST
After weeks of emotional testimony and just over a day of deliberations, jurors chose Tuesday to return Carl Wayne Buntion back to death row for the 1990 murder of a Houston police officer.

Buntion stood and locked eyes with jurors as the judge read their verdict. They voted unanimously for him to be put to death, finding nothing that warranted him to be sentenced to life in prison instead.

Buntion was convicted previously of the execution-style murder of HPD Officer James Irby which took place during a traffic stop in 1990. He was already sentenced to death for that murder.

But a Texas appeals court overturned that verdict, saying the original jury did not hear evidence of Buntion's abusive childhood, evidence that the jury should have heard. The punishment phase of the trial was re-tried over the last few weeks and the jury this time heard that evidence.

As the verdict was read Tuesday afternoon, Irby's former partner stared at Buntion's face.

"He was smirking and trying to stare the jury down and it just confirmed my belief that the guy is an animal and he's never gonna be reformed," said Gary Blankinship, Irby's HPD partner at the time of the shooting.

Had the jury not selected death, the other option was life in prison. Based on the laws in place at the time of the murder that would have meant he would immediately become eligible for parole -- a frightening prospect Irby's family says because Buntion has repeatedly said from jail that he wouldn't think twice about killing again.

This is the moment the Irby family was hoping for, praying for. Irby's widow talked about what a relief this verdict is. His two children are now adults; they were toddlers when Irby was murdered. This trial was the first time they heard brutal detail of their father's murder.

"That would have been a pretty heavy sentence for my family and I to have to go to the parole board every two years and try to keep him there. And it's been a painful enough process over the last 22 years," said widow Maura Irby.

"It was a sad day, that day; It's a sad day this day. I don't think justice was done, I really don't. But I will say this, I'll be there at Carl's execution if that happens. I don't think it will; I think I'll be close to 70 when I try Carl the third time," said Casey Keirnan, Buntion's attorney who represented him at this trial and the last.

Buntion's attorney's say he told them he quote "forgives" the jury for coming to this verdict. Attorney Philip Scardino says Buntion told him that is the right, "Christian" thing to do.

So the appeals process begins again. Irby's friends and family say they will be here every step of the way they say, especially if and when Buntion is put to death.

We're expected to hear more from the Irby family Tuesday evening, so stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story.

Earlier Tuesday

It was a lot of watch and wait for the families involved earlier Tuesday. The jury got this case on Monday and it was tasked with deciding whether Buntion will get the death penalty or a life sentence.

"Honestly I about passed out. I was trying to sit there and be calm and keep hope the jury would make the right decision and they did," said Irby's daughter, Cally Irby.

Buntion is a death row inmate. He was convicted in 1991 of capital murder for the death of HPD Officer James Irby during a routine traffic stop. Buntion shot police Officer Irby three times, once in the forehead and twice in the back.

He got a new sentencing because the Supreme Court ruled his first jury didn't hear all the details of his mental health issues and troubled childhood. And this jury certainly heard very specific, horrific details of abuse, torture, murder and animalistic behavior, from Buntion's brother who took the stand.

But jurors also heard from the late officer's adult children, one of whom is a police officer. They gave very emotionally charged testimony in this re-sentencing about growing up without a father.

We spoke one-on-one with the officer's widow, Maura Irby, about going through this entire process again in court and the possibility of life with parole for Buntion.

"Anxious, impatient, worried. If they don't come back with the death penalty, it's going to leave this hanging over our heads still for quite some time to come, especially my kids," said widow Maura Irby. "I hate the idea that we'll then have to go the parole board every couple of years and try to keep him in jail, especially since my son is out on the streets doing exactly what his father did."

In their deliberations, jurors passed two notes to the judge. In the latest, they asked if they could see a list of Buntion's arrest history. The judge said OK and sent that back to them.