After just 4 1/2 hours of deliberations, former political donor Ed Buck was convicted Tuesday of a series of federal charges, including providing methamphetamine to two men who died in his West Hollywood apartment.
Buck was convicted of all nine felony counts he was facing. The verdicts came on the four-year anniversary of the death of one of the two victims, 26-year-old Gemmel Moore, in Buck’s apartment. As each guilty verdict was read aloud by the judge, family members and friends of the dead men applauded and hugged.
“We had a serial killer on the streets of West Hollywood for years,” Samuel Lloyd, Moore’s former roommate and best friend, said outside the courthouse. “But nobody cared. We have to start standing up before it ever gets to this point again.”
Following eight days of testimony, Buck was convicted in Los Angeles federal court of two counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death, stemming from the deaths of Moore in July 2017 and Timothy Dean in January 2019. Those charges both carry 20-year mandatory minimums.
Buck was also convicted of 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 showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder did not set a sentencing date, but scheduled post-trial motions on Aug. 9.
“It was a tremendous honor to vindicate the rights of the victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Norell, who helped prosecute the case, told reporters.
Prosecutors said that Buck caused the deaths of Moore and Dean as a result of his “fetish” for injecting men with increasing doses of methamphetamine until they became comatose. 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 told jurors 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.”
Ludlow Creary II, one of Buck’s attorneys, argued that his client did nothing more than enjoy party-and-play sessions involving drugs and sex with men he met online. Buck could not be held responsible for the serious medical conditions that caused the deaths of the two men 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, 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 the trial, federal prosecutors called 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, Dane Brown, testified that he passed out after being given several injections, and then managed to rouse himself, leave the apartment and go to a nearby gas station, where he called the paramedics who saved his life.
“When I walked out of that apartment, I didn’t know what would happen next,” Brown said outside court Tuesday. “I made it out alive.”
West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath, who stood with victims’ family members outside the courthouse, said that with the conviction of Buck — who unsuccessfully ran for the WeHo city council in 2007 — “our community is now safer.”
Prosecutors said Buck exploited vulnerable, primarily Black men by paying them to come to his home, use drugs and engage in sex play to satisfy a fetish.
“The lives of Black gay men matter — no matter if they’re homeless, survival sex workers or escorts — this is a case that transcends race, class, wealth,” said political strategist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick. “Our lives, our community matters.”
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, did not kill either of the men.
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 lethal overdoses of methamphetamine.
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 against their wills 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.”
Creary continued, “Did Ed Buck force them to do anything? No, he didn’t.”
In her rebuttal, 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 that Pietruszka’s testimony in favor of the defense theory 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.
Outside court, Joyce Jackson, Dean’s sister, said Tuesday was ” a bittersweet, but great day. Ed Buck will never harm anyone else.”