Texas’ oldest death row inmate was executed on Thursday for the almost 32-year-old murder of a Houston police officer during a traffic check. Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was executed at the state penitentiary in Huntsville via lethal injection. He was found guilty of fatally shooting Houston police officer James Irby, a nearly 20-year veteran of the force, in June 1990. Buntion’s attorneys had asked the US Supreme Court to stay his execution, but the court had turned down their appeal. Buntion had only been on parole for six weeks when he shot Irby, who was 37 years old. Buntion was a passenger in the automobile that Irby pulled stopped, and he had a long criminal history. Buntion’s sentence was annulled by an appeals court in 2009, but he was resentenced to death three years later by a new jury.
What did his wife have to say about James Irby?
According to his wife, Maura Irby, James Irby had discussed retiring and spending more time with his two children, who were 1 and 3 years old at the time of his death. Maura Irby, 60, said, “He was ready to fill out the papers and stay at home and create a feed business.” “He wanted to be the parent that attended all of the father-daughter dances and ballgames. He was the love of my life and a fantastic man.”
What did Buntion’s lawyer claim about Irby’s death?
Various state and federal courts had also turned down Buntion’s lawyers’ appeals to overturn his death sentence in the months leading up to his execution. His clemency appeal was denied by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday. Buntion’s lawyers claimed he was to blame for Irby’s death and that he “ought to be severely punished for that act.” They argued, however, that his execution was unconstitutional because the jury’s finding that he would be a future danger to society — one of the reasons he was sentenced to death — turned out to be false, and his execution would serve no legitimate purpose because so much time had passed since his conviction. Buntion was portrayed by his attorneys as a senior offender who posed no threat due to his arthritis, vertigo, and need for a wheelchair.
In court records, his attorneys David Dow and Jeffrey Newberry argued, “This three-decade wait weakens the basis for the death penalty… Whatever deterrent effect there is reduced by delay.” Buntion was the oldest person executed in Texas since the Supreme Court removed the state’s moratorium on capital punishment in 1976. Walter Moody Jr., who was 83 years old when he was killed in Alabama in 2018, was the oldest inmate executed in the United States in modern times.
Buntion was also Texas’s first inmate to be executed in 2022. Despite being the nation’s busiest capital punishment state, Texas had not carried out an execution in nearly seven months. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and legal difficulties over Texas’ unwillingness to allow spiritual advisers to touch detainees or pray loudly in the death chamber, there have been only three executions in each of the last two years.
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