View Full Version : Activist urges parole for killer he helped convict

07-06-2003, 07:44 AM
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
In 1999, when Jon Buice issued an apology for his role in a notorious gay-bashing murder eight years earlier, he gave it to The Prison Show host Ray Hill to read on the radio. An excerpt:
"The gay and lesbian community of Houston I owe a momentous apology, a repentance for an act of atrocity. The night of July 4th, 1991, haunts me every day. It has hurt me deep inside. I was involved in taking a man's life.
"If it were possible, I would sacrifice my own life to bring Paul (Broussard) back. But this is not conceivable. And I aspire that you will hear the cries of who I am today.
"As I've grown older, I have gained a more relative understanding of what took place that night in Houston. It was never my intention to harm anyone. Never could I possibly imagine I would take a human life, or take part in any action which would inflict fatal injuries.
"But the fact remains: I did participate and I have taken responsibility for this. Of course I knew I was wrong. In my youth I made poor decisions. After years here in prison, I see how disruptive my life and attitudes were."

Eleven years ago, Ray Hill helped put Jon Buice in prison. Today, he is working to get him out.
Along the way, Hill counseled Buice on making prison life bearable and getting college degrees, on facing up to his crime and putting his hatreds behind him. The friendship they forged is so strong that Hill, 62, recently named Buice, 29, to succeed him as host of the radio show he inaugurated in 1980.
But the story has one more twist: Hill is Houston's most outspoken gay activist and Buice is serving a 45-year sentence for killing Paul Broussard, a 27-year-old bank employee, in a gay-bashing attack that drew national attention and precipitated the passage of hate crime laws in Texas.
"I don't see any conflict at all," said Hill. "From my position, what's most important is the safety of the people in the gay community. They (Buice and nine co-defendants) constituted a threat to that community. Time passes. Here it is 2003, and I think some of the guys, at least Jon, are ready to make social contributions and could well be an asset to the gay and lesbian community."
This transformation has not been without risk for Hill, who has been called a traitor, hypocrite and worse for supporting the parole bid. He has been publicly criticized by Broussard's mother, Nancy Rodriguez, even after he read an eloquent, apologetic letter from Buice (pronounced, "Bice") to her and to the gay community during an April 1999 broadcast of The Prison Show, which Hill hosts on KPFT-FM.
"Why give somebody a sentence if they're not going to serve it?" Rodriguez asked recently, after Buice was notified that the state parole board would be considering the case. She has declined to meet with the killer.
"I'm not interested in anything he has to say," she said. "There's nothing he could say that would make any difference, and it's too late anyway."
About 2:30 a.m. on July 4, 1991, Broussard and two friends were walking back to their cars from Heaven, a gay nightclub in Montrose, when they were attacked by two carloads of youths. The brief but vicious attack left Broussard with a broken rib, crushed testicles and two stab wounds in the chest and stomach.
He died later that morning at St. Joseph Hospital. His two friends escaped the attack with minor injuries.
Within a half-hour, Hill received a call about the attack from a friend who lived near the club. Hill had raised hell before about unprovoked attacks on gays in Montrose and established himself as a liaison between the Houston Police Department and the gay community, where he is widely known and trusted.
"I went to the scene. I inserted myself into this situation," he recalled. "But if I hadn't, chances are detectives would have called and invited me in."
In the coming days, he gleaned tips for police from the doormen at the gay clubs, helped raise reward money from Montrose-area businesses and gathered thousands of gays to stop traffic in Montrose to protest gay bashing.
"I knew publicity was the only way of finding these kids," Hill said.
Indeed, Hill's efforts helped propel Broussard's death to the front page and the top of the TV newscasts. Within a week, police received the tip that led them to 10 suspects, all residents of The Woodlands and current or former students at what was then McCullough High School.
"He was helpful," homicide Sgt. Ken Vachris said of Hill. "The case broke pretty quickly after that."
Buice was born in Houston but had traveled and lived internationally with his stepmother and father, an industrial designer, since he was 13. He was 16 when the family moved to The Woodlands, where he enrolled at McCullough and, he said , "immediately fell into a culture of drugs and clubs and drinking."
His grades plummeted. He grew distant from his father, Jim Buice.
"At the end of the school year he started bringing his grades up, getting his things in order," the elder Buice said. "If he'd just made it through the summer, he probably would have graduated from (Texas) A&M."
Still, he said, his 17-year-old son was not allowed to use the family car or be out past 10 p.m. But that day in July 1991, Jim Buice and his wife had to go out of town.
According to Jon Buice, classmate Chance Dillon came over that afternoon and they began drinking. They were drunk by that evening, when other friends came by and suggested they all go out.
"That's all it took," Buice said in a recent prison interview.
Ten of them left for Houston in two cars. On the drive, Buice said, there was more drinking and pot smoking, and he took some LSD. His memory of the rest of the evening is spotty.
The group played for a while at the vacant American Rice facility that stood at the corner of Washington and Studemont, then went to Numbers, a club on Westheimer. As they headed home, they took a route through Montrose.
"Some of the guys hollered at some homosexuals on the street," Buice said. "Then everybody started getting out and started fighting. I remember seeing several people fighting. I remember seeing Chance and Gayland (Randle) run off down the street chasing someone."
Buice was the last person out. "I ran over, grabbed someone and pulled them out of the way, and I was struck," he said.
He said he didn't know whether the blow to the face came from Broussard or one of his friends, but "that's when I took the folding knife out of my pocket that I carried all the time."
Buice reached into the knot of people and struck another couple of blows, with the 2 1/2-inch, locking blade open in his hand. Then it was over and everyone was running back to the cars.
Buice said he passed out when he got home, with no idea what had happened. A few days later, Derrick Attard was picked up in New York, where he had gone after the attack. The next day, police were at the Buice house.
"I don't know if `scared' could describe it," said Buice, who was staying with a friend. "I called my dad and we talked."
Jim Buice said, "I told him if he would step up and take responsibility for his actions, I would be there for him until the day I die."
The son recalls that as the day he and his father began rebuilding their relationship.
"It changed my whole life," he said. "I decided to turn myself in."
The elder Buice comes close to breaking down when he describes driving his only son to the police station and watching him walk in alone, to accept responsibility for what he had done.
That he turned himself in was never reported. No one was looking for anything good to say about Broussard's killers.
To pay his son's legal fees, Jim Buice said, he sold some land and took a job overseas. His son was released on bail to await trial.
Toward the end of the summer in 1992, Jon Buice said, his attorney told him they needed to talk and picked him up in The Woodlands. "He told me, `Your bond's been revoked.' We went to his office and about 10 minutes later, HPD was there."
The bail evidently was revoked because of a rumor that Buice had applied for a work permit in South Korea, which, according to the rumor, was his mother's native land.
In fact, Buice's mother is American-born. His stepmother is from Thailand and was with her husband in Saudi Arabia at the time.
What few people knew was that Buice, with a passport he'd had for years, remained in Houston alone, awaiting trial, while his father worked overseas.
"There was only a $10,000 bond that cost me $1,000," Jim Buice said. "What held Jon in Houston for a whole year, it had nothing to do with money. It had to do with being responsible."
Meantime, Hill was keeping the media pressure on but had shifted his focus from the police to the courts, where he was lobbying prosecutor Mike Anderson and state District Judge Brian Rains for "meaningful sentences" for Buice and the others.
Days before the trial was to start, Buice's attorney advised him to take the prosecution's offer of 45 years.
"He said, `I can't do anything for you; there's too much media. If you go to trial you'll get life,' " Buice said.
"I see Ray as the driving force," said Jim Buice. "The single-most reason Jon got 45 years. I know he knew Anderson and Rains. I know he sat in on the sentencing.
"I'll never forget that. He knows I won't," the father said, noting that while he is grateful for what Hill is doing for his son now, he still resents Hill's involvement in the beginning.
Anderson, now a state district judge, said, "Being on the bench now limits what I can say about the case, but I feel what he got was justified.
"One thing: Those were really good guys who got hurt, who were attacked. I certainly understand Nancy's position," he said, referring to Broussard's mother. "She's made it sort of her life's work to see that these guys don't get paroled."
Acknowledging that he was allowed to consult with the judge and prosecutor during the plea-bargaining negotiations, Hill said he asked for "meaningful" sentences but was shocked at the result in Buice's case.
"I thought from the beginning 45 years was too long for this case," Hill said.
"I say that without marginalizing or minimizing the death of Paul Broussard. The death of anyone, especially a gay person, is an issue to me. But that case can be better explained through theories of sociology than psychology. They were drunk and stoned, and in some kind of late-adolescence, male-ritual gang."
So, after Buice accepted the 45-year term, Hill set about trying to mitigate his own success. He successfully urged Anderson not to seek a finding that Buice's offense was aggravated, which would have significantly increased the amount of time he had to serve before becoming eligible for parole.
Of the 10 defendants, five initially got prison time.
"Everyone who touched Paul Broussard got prison time," Hill said, "except for Derrick Attard."
Attard got a break because he identified the other nine defendants for police. He, Gayland Randle, Jeffery Valentine, Raphael Gonzalez and Brian Spake all got probation initially, although Attard and Randle later ended up violating the terms of their probation and being sent to prison. Randle remains there. Attard was paroled in November 2000.
Dillon got 20 years and was paroled in March 2000. Leandro Ramirez and brothers Jaime and Javier Aguirre received 15 years and a day and are still serving their terms.
Buice said he had thought the others would get sentences similar to his and was shocked when they didn't.
The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office listed Broussard's cause of death as the stab wound to his stomach, and Buice was the one with the knife.
"Certainly, the knife is an important factor here," Hill acknowledged. "But 45 years horrified me. We're talking about a 17-year-old kid here."
Hill makes no apologies, however, for helping to hunt down Buice and the others.
"I don't think I want to live in a society where somebody like Paul Broussard can be brutally murdered and someone doesn't care enough to track them down," he said.
Once the 10 had been sentenced, however, it was time for Hill to change hats. An ex-convict, he is as active in prisoner rights as in gay rights.
At that point, Buice and the others were Hill's people. He set about contacting the five who originally were sent to prison and, later, Attard and Randle.
"I felt an obligation to get to know them," he said. "To find out who they were, why they did what they did."
Buice had gone to prison mad -- at himself, at his co-defendants, at Hill, at the whole world. He was still mad a year or so later when Hill asked, on The Prison Show, for someone to tell Buice that Hill wanted to meet him. Grudgingly, Buice wrote and agreed.
"I figured he came to bitch at me," Buice said of their first meeting. Instead, "He was pleasant. He asked me why I was involved in Paul's murder. He conveyed understanding. He made me want dialogue."
Hill said he understood: "Jon went to prison with the same mind-set I'd had 21 years before."
In 1970, Hill was sentenced to 160 years in prison for eight high-dollar burglaries. Although he was released in March 1975, he had said early in his sentence, "The only hope I had was that the revolution would come and my friends would come to get me out of there, preferably in a sports car. That's how hopeless my case was."
Shared experience is a powerful foundation for a friendship. Buice began to listen to The Prison Show, and to Hill, and he began to see his options: "Change, or remain and stay inside here, and let prison become your life."
Buice began seeking out every educational opportunity the prison system offered. He signed up for the victim-offender mediation program, in which offenders meet with their victims or their victims' families.
Buice hasn't gotten to meet with Broussard's mother, but he was used as a surrogate offender, meeting with victims and families in cases in which the offenders did not wish to participate.
Buice remembers clearly the epiphany that allowed his metamorphosis to continue.
"I was sitting in my cell going over some victim-offender dialogue, answering some real tough questions about my crime, how I felt, how I thought the victim felt, his family, and it hit me," Buice said: "I can't deny this. I did this.
"After I acknowledged it, I began to answer the questions, and I cried like a baby. It felt good, in a way, like some of the weight had lifted."
A side effect of that day was an apology to Rodriguez and the gay community, written by Buice and read by Hill on The Prison Show.
Buice now has three degrees: A bachelor's in psychology from Sam Houston State University and associate degrees in business and sociology from Lee College. He wants to get a master's degree in human resource management when he gets out.
He is eligible for parole and almost afraid to hope.
Rodriguez plans to protest Buice's parole, as she has protested parole for others convicted in her son's death.
"I understand," Buice said. "I've changed, but I can't change what I did. I do believe there are people who need to be given another chance. And I believe I can help other inmates the way Ray helped me. I know what prison has done for me. Being in prison helped me realize who I am, attain college degrees, gave me focus."
"Anger is the main reason most don't benefit from prison," he added. "Part of my problem was, I wasn't willing to listen. When people are willing to listen, they can have the same benefits."
It isn't often that an inmate praises the prison system for making him a better person. It's one of the reasons Hill wants Buice to make parole and to take over The Prison Show.
Clarence Bagby, a member of the board of directors of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said PFLAG has no official objections to Hill's support of Buice.
"Ray has been a longtime champion in the battle for tolerance and acceptance," Bagby said.
"A central part of our mission is to promote tolerance, acceptance and change. Within that context, we have to be open to folks who have become more tolerant. If this young man (Buice) has done that, we have to congratulate him. He's obviously not at that place anymore. So, gosh, you have to pat him on the back."
Hill and Buice's father can list a number of reasons why they believe Buice should be paroled: his education, the sea change in his attitude, the fact that he has been a model prisoner. He has a plan for after his release, a job to go to, a home. He meets or exceeds the prison system's definition of "rehabilitated."
"And Jon is loved," Jim Buice finished, with a small break in his voice.

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