Monday, November 16, 2015

Epilogue to "The Guy With the Knife": Jon Buice was granted parole. Again.

In a timely epilogue to the screening last week of “The Guy With the Knife” at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, news comes today that the subject of the film, Jon Buice, was just granted parole after 24 years in prison. Buice was convicted of murder in the high-profile case involving banker Paul Broussard in Houston. The 1991 crime involved an apparent gay-bashing by a group of 10 youth from The Woodlands, and mobilized the Houston gay community to advocate for equal rights and for investigation and prosecution of this crime.

While on the surface, the case against the 17-year old Buice seemed cut-and-dry, and the outrage about the gay-bashing seemed fully justified, a closer analysis of the case revealed that the realities of the crime and its aftermath were far murkier. In fact, some prominent members of Houston’s LGBT community, including Ray Hill (the producer of The Prison Show and the original proponent of the “gay bashing” theory of the case) and Maria Gonzalez (the head of Houston’s LGBT Caucus and a University of Houston professor) came to be among Buice’s biggest supporters. Hill later admitted that he fabricated the notion that this was a hate crime in order to put pressure on law enforcement officials to solve the case. And Gonzalez went from fighting to keep Buice locked up to becoming a staunch advocate for his release.

Two separate deeper dives into the case—one by journalism prof Michael Berryhill and the other by independent filmmaker Alison Armstrong, who spent eight years making her film--raised serious concerns about a number of previously unexplored issues. Buice’s guilt is not in question, but both investigations raise serious doubts that there was any underlying intention to target a gay person and that there was any intent to commit murder; rather, it seems much more likely that it was a fight by teens, intoxicated by drugs and alcohol, that got out of hand. Notably, Buice’s case was resolved with a plea bargain for a 45-year sentence, so many facts never had the opportunity to come out at a trial.

Two of the most damning indicators that this was a gay-bashing withered under closer inspection. For example, the media originally touted the fact that the perpetrators used a wooden board studded with nails to beat the victim, but no such item was ever found in the evidence locker and there was no proof or testimony such a weapon ever existed. Similarly, the victim was supposedly “gutted like a deer" with a huge knife, but the only weapon involved turned out to be a knife with a two-inch blade that was used to stab Broussard. The victim’s especially gory “injury” was in fact the result of his autopsy. Another revelation in the film had to do with the fact that the victim, Paul Broussard, was awake and conversant when EMS arrived on the scene, and that his transportation to the hospital and treatment by a doctor were severely delayed due to fears about possible exposure to AIDS, at a time when that disease had the city in a panic.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the case, though, had to do with a development in 2011 when Buice was originally granted parole after numerous set-offs. By all accounts, Buice was deeply repentant, and had been a model prisoner, earning several college degrees and becoming a peer educator at the Wynne Farm. But shortly after the Parole Board announced its parole decision, in the days before Buice was actually released but after there was political pushback to its decision, Buice was accused of having an “inappropriate relationship” with a female prison chaplain.

No evidence was ever produced showing that such an inappropriate relationship existed. And indeed, the only inappropriate behavior was on TDCJ’s part. In an extraordinarily brazen move that would likely have a chilling effect on the chaplaincy program in TDCJ were it better known, TDCJ installed video surveillance equipment in Chaplain Linda Hill’s office, capturing footage of all her private communications with inmates and staff alike during a two-week period.

Despite the fact that the video showed perfectly ordinary encounters between Buice and the chaplain, Buice’s parole decision was rescinded and he was placed in disciplinary segregation for some period of time. And officials at the agency fired Chaplain Linda Hill and slandered her reputation, making her collateral consequence in this campaign to ensure that Buice stayed behind bars. Hill’s personal nightmare has only worsened in the years since her unfair dismissal. Berryhill’s account fills out many more details of this sordid story.

While it is tempting to focus any discussion of the case on these irregularities and injustices, in many ways those case-specific details detract from the larger issues and lessons presented here. Maybe we need to look at this case as a story of what it means for a perpetrator of a violent crime to become rehabilitated, or for a community to forgive a person who has hurt them. Perhaps we ought to ask hard questions about when someone has been punished enough, and what further purpose it could serve to keep someone locked up beyond the time that anyone could reasonably think he is a danger to society. And finally, the case should cause us to ask how the justice system can be so easily manipulated, whether at the investigation, prosecution, or parole stage.

One hopes that this latest parole decision--by a parole panel with full information--is the final chapter in Buice’s case, and that there will be no further twists and turns. And one also hopes that there can be some healing for everyone involved in and hurt by this tragic case: for Paul Broussard’s family; for the gay community in Houston and beyond; for Jon Buice, his family, and supporters; and for Linda Hill, whose own story has scarcely begun to be told.

MORE: Kuff disagrees Buice has served enough time, for reasons he explained here in 2013.


Anonymous said...

Grits readers may be interested in this case, where attorneys in a death penalty case refused to do anything further for their client, and then resisted withdrawing:

Execution date is set for tomorrow night.

Anonymous said...

Mad? Good!! Now be HEARD! Contact these Parole Commissioners that voted to let this murderer out onto the streets (Reference Inmate Jon Buice TDCJ# 630496) :
Ira Evans – Parole Commissioner: 979-849-3031
Lynn Ruzicka – Parole Commissioner: 979-849-3031 (option #2 (pound 2))
David Guiterrez – Parole Chairman: 254-865-8870
Lynn Ruzicka FB Page:
Evans and Ruzicka office:
Angleton Parole Board Office
1212 N. Velasco, Suite 201
Angleton, TX 77515
979-849-3031 (option #2 (pound 2))
979-849-8741 Fax
Contact Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Senator John Whitmire to request a Special Review Hearing and reversal of the Parole Board’s Decision (Reference Inmate Jon Buice TDCJ# 630496):
Senator John Whitmire (click email tab)
Chairman, Senate Criminal Justice Committee
The Honorable John Whitmire
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711
(512) 463-0115
803 Yale Street
Houston, Texas 77007
(713) 864-8701
(713) 864-5287 (fax)
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick
Lt. Governor's Office: Capitol Building, 2E.13
Telephone: (512) 463-0001
The Texas Lieutenant Governor Comment Line: (512) 463-5342
The Texas Lieutenant Governor Office Line: (512) 463-0001
By Email:
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX. 78711
Governor Greg Abbott (click Contact tab to email)
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Information and Referral Hotline [for Texas callers]
(800) 843-5789
Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers]
(512) 463-1782
Office of the Governor Main Switchboard [office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST]
(512) 463-2000
Citizen's Assistance Telecommunications Device
If you are using a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD),
call 711 to reach Relay Texas
Remind the Parole Board, your Governor, your Lt. Governor, and the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that parole should only be granted in the best interest of society. Paul Broussard’s mother, Mrs. Rodriguez, has never been “out for blood.” Her request has been that her son’s killer merely spend 27 years behind bars – the age her son was when he was stabbed to death by this monster. I think that is extremely generous of her.

Nancy Rodriguez said...

As Paul Broussard's Mother I feel compelled to respond to the many factual errors about the murder of my son. First of all, Maria Gonzalez is NOT the head of Houston's LGBT Caucus. In response to the claim that Jon Buice and the others did not go to Montrose to target gays let me offer testimony from none other than Jon Buice.
Jon stated in interviews with prosecutors that he showed the knife to others and told them he used it to "Cut the Querr". Group members all stated they had gone on gay-bashing trips before and one of the defendants testified in Civil Court that gay-bashing was part of the motive of the attack. Leo Ramirez, Javier and Jaime Aguirre all co-defendants in their deposition said it was a "Unanimous decision by all to go beat up queers".
Cary Anderson one of the two that escaped the group said he was running away from several of them carrying a 2 by 4 boards and said he saw nails in the end of them. The other survivor said he was hit with a large object several times and they were cheering each other on like he was a football. He stated on the record if I had not jumped to my feet I would probably be dead since they kept hitting me so hard.
When asked Buice stated they all agreed to go harass gay people and even picked up what they called queer rocks. All of this is part of the official file.
The medical team did the best they could and to imply they were scared of exposure to aids is ludicrous and an outright lie.
None of this was even discussed until all of sudden Buice comes up for parole and now let's all blame the EMS. If it was true I would be the first to blame them but yet another lie by Buice's supporters.
Here is yet another lie, when Buice was approved for parole in 2011 the issue with prison chaplain was already addressed---over and done with. Lie after lie---anyone with any intelligence can easily look at the time line and see issues with Chaplain occurred well before the vote to approve and then reject parole. Amazing how one can simply lie to make a point. New information was presented and that was the reason for the parole being taken away. Berryhill should be ashamed of himself for his lack of journalistic ethics.
My son was murdered because he was gay plain and simple. All I ever asked for was that the person who took a Buck Knife (His own description) and stabbed my son to death serve 27 years which is how long Paul lived. My son is the only victim of this so-called group---NO ONE ELSE

Michael Berryhill said...

Jon Buice has done everything he can to meet the conditions of parole. The parole officials appointed to decide impartially if he is ready for this responsibility have determined that he is ready. Now the question is whether someone who was not appointed to make these decisions can undo their vote.

Ray Hill said...

Thank you, Grits for Breakfast, for this epilogue. Jon Buice had no intention to kill Paul Broussard and all those who look into the evidence objectively find that conclusion. Those who seek eternal revenge will never see it and will lie, cheat and steal to punish Jon Buice forever. Had there been a trial (instead of plea bargain) as prosecutor Mike Anderson and I wanted, the state could not have met it burden for life murder. There is evidence there for unintentional manslaughter which carries a maximum sentence for less time than Jon Buice has served. There was no trial because I created a mistaken view of the case via the media that soiled the jury pool. This case points out the importance of having trials where the state is held to it burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the offense

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm glad I attended the screening at LBJ. Interesting case and compelling movie. Mrs. Rodriguez, the absence of your perspective was unfortunate and noted by some in the audience that evening. We were given to understand it was your wish that your victim advocate speak for you. Although a smaller audience I appreciate your comments here.

DEWEY said...

No one has mentioned Andy Kahn's role in to withdrawal of John's first parole. That is a story itself.

Anonymous said...

I am posting this comment as an apology to Nancy Rodriguez and to the those who posted on this thread. I am a friend of Nancy's and took it upon myself to post the above comment using Nancy's name without her permission. My intent was only to be supportive of my friend. After telling Nancy what I did, she was understandably upset but knew I did not mean any harm and had good itntentions. She asked that I convey to everyone that the above comment is NOT her words. She DOES NOT post on social media.

Unknown said...

I have twice seen the movie. From my point of view, people who are willing to lie to advance an agenda make it harder to trust them later. This is true in the movie, where Ray Hill asks people to trust him now when his position begins with the premise that he fabricated a whole lot of the story to get media attention. It is no less true when an anonymous commenter will pretend to be Paul Broussard's mother and wants to sway us with sympathy, apologizes for lying and says s/he is a "friend" and an advocate, and wants to tell us where all the lies are. Anonymous friend, the lies are with you, as you have admitted. While I have nothing but sympathy for Ms. Rodriguez, I have nothing but contempt and distrust for your manipulation of her story. There are three possible positions here: 1) Let the parole board, who has the actual facts and not someone's spin on the facts, make a decision 2) argue that justice has not been served based on a number of factors, including deterrence or 3) argue that 23 years or so in jail is long enough. I am of position 1, because I believe in parole and I believe that the parole board is in the best position to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is also the position that the Houston GLBT Political Caucus voted to take this year, although it was far from unanimous. However, I respect my friends in (and out of) the LGBT community who take position 2 (a majority) and position 3 (a minority). Members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women, are targeted today, and many fear that any leniency sends the wrong message. This is perfectly understandable. But no matter where you are on this spectrum or what you think you know about this, I would urge you to see the movie. I would urge you to consider the competing public policy implications of deterrence and paroling prisoners when/if they are no longer considered dangerous, and to try to reach a conclusion that weighs these factors.