Jury deliberations are expected to begin Tuesday in the federal trial of former political donor Ed Buck, who is accused of providing methamphetamine to two men who died in his West Hollywood apartment.
A prosecutor told jurors Friday that Buck caused the deaths of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean as a result of his “fetish” for injecting men with increasing doses of methamphetamine until they became comatose, but the defense countered that the victims had underlying medical conditions that ended their lives.
“He would find desolate, vulnerable victims and push meth on them over and over … until they went unconscious,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsay Bailey said in her closing argument.
“That’s what he liked about it — the power gave him sexual gratification. … Every time he stuck a needle in someone’s arm, he was playing God. And he never stopped — not even after two men died,” Bailey added.
However, Ludlow Creary II, one of Buck’s attorneys, argued that his client actually did nothing more than enjoy party-and-play sessions involving drugs and sex with men he met online. It had nothing to do with Buck that two men who suffered from serious medical conditions would die at his apartment 18 months apart, the attorney said.
“This is a subculture, a lifestyle that may be shocking to some of us,” Creary said during his summation. “Everyone involved was there voluntarily.”
Buck is on trial in Los Angeles federal court on nine felony counts, including two counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death, stemming from the deaths of Moore in July 2017 and Dean in January 2019. If convicted, each of the two charges carry 20-year mandatory minimums.
Buck is additionally charged with enticing Moore and another man to travel to Los Angeles to engage in prostitution; knowingly and intentionally distributing methamphetamine; and using his West Hollywood apartment for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam.
Buck, who has reportedly given more than $500,000 to mostly Democratic politicians and causes since 2000, declined to testify in his own defense.
Over the course of eight days, federal prosecutors put on more than 20 witnesses, including four men who told of smoking methamphetamine that Buck provided and then being pressured to allow the defendant to shoot them up with the drug.
One of the men testified that he passed out after being given several injections, and then forced himself to leave the apartment and go to a nearby gas station, where he called paramedics.
Prosecutors say Buck exploited vulnerable, primarily Black men by paying them to come to his home, use drugs, then engage in sex play to satisfy a fetish.
The defense called just one witness to the stand. Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, who runs a private autopsy service in the San Fernando Valley, testified Friday that he analyzed photos, slides and medical reports on the bodies of Moore and Dean, finding that both men had serious underlying medical conditions that caused their deaths. Methamphetamine, he told the jury, had nothing to do with either death.
Moore, Pietruszka said, died of complications from AIDS and pulmonary edema, while Dean died 18 months later, also in Buck’s apartment, of alcohol poisoning and heart disease.
Prosecution witnesses, including a county medical examiner, testified that both men died from methamphetamine overdoses.
In his closing argument, Creary appeared to shock the courtroom by using a racial slur while blaming the prosecution for trying to put forth “the racist notion that Black men have no morals … no self control,” and that Buck somehow was so powerful that he could force men to come to his apartment and engage in party-and-play.
“You had a bunch of Black men … they had no say in the matter,” the defense attorney said. “As if they had no free will, as if they had no ability to say no. The government wants you to believe that the only place they could find drugs is (with) Ed Buck.”
Creary continued, “Did Ed Buck force them to do anything? No, he didn’t.”
In her rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Norell refuted Creary’s assertion that Buck’s party-and-play lifestyle was on trial.
“It is not an attack on a gay subculture,” she said. “This is about an unbroken pattern of Buck preying on vulnerable, addicted men … Buck specifically targeted people who did not have a lot of good choices.”
Norell told the jury Pietruszka’s testimony depended on “who is footing the bill,” and showed the panel the doctor’s testimony from a previous trial in which he contradicted what he said in the Buck case about toxicity levels of methamphetamine.
“You’d have to believe that Buck is the unluckiest person in the world — that two people would show up at his apartment and die 18 months apart,” the prosecutor said.