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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

THE TOPIC LATELY SEEMS TO BE ALL ABOUT JUSTICE

I know that it seems that lately all I’ve done is talk about justice. Justice delayed, justice served, justice publicly perceived to not have been done. This tale is a little bit different.

During the summer of 1991, things were starting to look up, relatively speaking, for the GLBT community in Houston. While we were still pretty much sticking to the Montrose area for clubbing and so on, we were able to do it in relative safety. Other places in Houston, as in most big cities, we weren’t as welcome. Sometimes, it literally was as much as your life was worth to go into some of the other neighborhoods. That hot night in July, July 4th, 1991, we all found out just how very dangerous even our relatively safe club venue was.

Paul Broussard, a 27 year-old Houston-area banker and Texas A&M alumnus, was beaten and stabbed to death in a gay-bashing outside a Houston nightclub on July 4, 1991 by ten teenaged boys. The youths had driven from the northern Houston suburb of The Woodlands to the heavily gay area of Montrose solely to "beat up some queers," in the words of one of the convicted teens. All 10 of the young men (Jaime Aguirre, Javier Aguirre, Derrick Attard, Jon Buice, Chance Paul Dillon, Rafael Gonzales, Gayland Randle, Leandro Ramirez, Brian Spake, and Jeffrey Valentine) were the children of privilege. All but three of the attackers were under 17, and the eldest of them (Chance Dillon) was 22. All except Dillon attended McCullough High School in The Woodlands. The Woodland Ten, as they became known, had spent the two days prior to the attack binging on alcohol. Hours before the attack, they piled into two cars and cruised Montrose harassing men they presumed to be gay. They identified their targets by asking directions to Heaven, a popular area gay bar and threw rocks at men who answered with directions.

Paul and his two friends, Cary Anderson and Richard Delaunay, were just blocks away from home when the attackers asked them for directions to Heaven. When the kids got the directions, the 10 attackers jumped out of their cars, attacking all three men with their fists, with steel-toed boots,  with nail-studded two-by-fours, and a knife wielded by Jon Buice. Anderson and Delaunay escaped down a busy street, while Broussard headed down a dead end street where he was wound up cornered by the 10 attackers. Delaunay said the ten young men were cheering and yelling as they attacked Broussard, who suffered abrasions, puncture wounds, a broken rib, bruised testicles, and three stab wounds. As he lay on the ground, almost unconscious, two of his attackers rifled through his pockets and took a comb as a souvenir.

A pocket comb. As a souvenir. Wasn't that a classy thing to do?

He died in St. Joseph’s Hospital 8 ½ hours later. All ten of these young men were arrested, tried and convicted of murder. It was determined by the Harris County Medical Examiner that John Buice had fatally stabbed Paul Broussard. He received a 45 year sentence. The others, with the exception of Paul Dillon, who received a 20 year sentence, were sentenced to 15 years-and-a-day. All of them, with the exception of John Buice, have been paroled, and in a couple of cases, deported.

Now John Buice is going to be paroled. He’ll be out sometime in October after serving 19 years of his 45 year sentence. NINETEEN YEARS. He hasn't even been in prison for as long as Paur Broussard was alive. Biggest surprize yet, Buice's chief advocate is GLBT activist Ray Hill, who has reversed his opinion of both the crime and the young man since Paul Broussard’s murder. Hill, who is also an ex-convict and host of "The Prison Show" on KPFT (Pacifica) radio in Houston, has been strongly advocating for Buice’s release. Hill developed empathy for Buice, he said, after he contacted the killers in an effort to assuage the prejudice I thought they had. "This was not a hate crime," Hill said when asked about the parole. "We had a bunch of kids drunk and stoned and disappointed they couldn't get into a gay bar. They drove around looking for trouble. It had more to do with immaturity. . . There never was any intent to hurt or kill gay people."

WhatEVER, Ray. Whether there was conscious intent or not, that’s what happened, isn’t it?

Buice has said on numerous occasions that he is not homophobic, was not a homophobe on the night of the attack and has close friends and relatives who are gay. Buice also said that the attack had less to do with Broussard's sexual orientation than with thrill-seeking, male-bonding, peer pressure, and the influence of drugs and alcohol. Almost all of the Woodlands Ten were intoxicated that night. Some, including Jon Buice, had also used marijuana and taken LSD. Buice claimed to have "blacked out" on the night of the attack, and only remembers riding home with Broussard's blood on his clothes.

WhatEVER, John.

It’s almost always an excuse of some sort for all sorts of atrocious behaviours, from theft to rape to murder: I was immature, I was drunk, I was high, I was bonding, I was (fill in the blank here). Paul Broussard did not die an easy death. His death was horrendous, and he died in terrible pain. This bunch of “immature” kids drove from The Woodlands specifically to beat up, in their own words, “a bunch of queers”. They were organized, they deliberately set out to do exactly what they did – kill a queer – and it’s only because Paul Broussard deliberately ran away from his friends that the two of them are alive right now. The horror of Paul Broussard’s death still lingers in the GLBT community, and there is still a lot of fear, even if it mostly remains unspoken.

I moved to the southwest Houston subdivision where I still live in 1995, and, for a good 10 years, the Camp Fire girls selling candy and the Girl Scouts selling cookies only came to our door on the weekend, in broad daylight, with an adult with them. Now, if one of the moms in the neighborhood can’t find their kiddo/kiddos, they call me and WonderWife first, because the kids are usually here, and, if they aren’t, we usually know exactly where they are – and it is NOT in our beds, either. That’s what they were all afraid of: that we, as out lesbians, were lurking in the bushes, just SLAVERING to debauch their children.

Does John Buice deserve to be paroled after serving less than ½ his sentence? I don’t think so. Yes, I believe in redemption, and I also believe that, given the right impetus, a person IN prison can learn, grow, and change for the better. The "want-to" has to be there, but, yes, I do believe that a person can effect positive changes in their own lives, in or out of prison. O'course, being IN prison does have the wonderful faculty of truly concentrating one's attention. Do I think John Buice, who is a confessed murderer, has changed and grown and learned? Yes, I do. He’s earned several degrees, including a bachelor’s in psychology. He’s currently classified as a State Approved Trustee, which is a pretty hard thing to earn. He wrote an open letter to the GLBT community when Matthew Shepard was murdered, apologizing for what he did, and seeking forgiveness. Still, I have real reservations about this particular person and this particular case that go beyond the case itself.

Murders like Paul Broussard’s, and Caylee Anthony’s, and the family in Somerville that Anthony Graves was arrested, tried and wrongfully convicted of, leave wounds in a community’s psyche that never really heal. So, do I think that John Buice should be denied parole? Absolutely. Do I think that his only serving 19 years is an abomination? Absolutely. Did the justice system work in this particular case? Both yes and no.

 In my own, personal opinion, John Buice’s 19 years is not nearly enough.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry I'm so late in coming to this sad story. There are some extraordinary ironies in it. While I support hate crime legislation, an even worse crime is murder, whatever the reason. There is something both dense and politically calculated in arguing that a purported absence of homophobia in some way lessons the crime. I believe in redemption, too, but that argument tells me it hasn't really taken place.

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