2021 YEAR IN REVIEW: Political donor Ed Buck convicted in two drug deaths

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Wave Staff Report

WEST HOLLYWOOD — On July 27, 2017, Gemmel Moore, a 26-year old Black man from Texas, was found dead in the West Hollywood apartment of Ed Buck, a man who was well known in Democratic Party circles as a political donor.

Moore died from an overdose of methamphetamine, a death the county coroner’s office initially categorized as accidental.

Four years to the day of Moore’s death, a jury in a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles found Buck guilty of causing the death of Moore and another Black man, Timothy Dean, 53, who died under similar circumstances in January 2019.

All told, Buck was convicted of nine counts, including 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 and clonazepam.

Buck was convicted after an eight-day trial in which the prosecution called 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.

The defense called just one witness to the stand, Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, who runs a private autopsy service in the San Fernando Valley. He testified 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. He said Moore died of complications from AIDS and pulmonary edema, while Dean died of alcohol poisoning and heart disease.

Prosecution witnesses, including a county medical examiner, testified that both men died from lethal overdoses of methamphetamine.

During final arguments, one of Buck’s attorneys, Ludlow Creary II, argued that his client actually 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.

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.”

Buck may never have been tried if it wasn’t for Moore’s mother, LaTisha Nixon, who came to Los Angeles from Texas seeking answers about her son’s death. Black and gay advocates soon took up the cause and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opened an investigation into the case three weeks after Moore’s death “out of an abundance of caution.”

The heat turned up on Buck in January 2019 when Dean died under similar circumstances.

At first, it looked like Buck would avoid prosecution. A year after Moore’s death then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey declined to pursue criminal charges against Buck, calling the evidence “insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Buck was] responsible for the death of Moore” and that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck furnished drugs to Moore.

But after a third man suffered a near-fatal overdose at Buck’s apartment in September 2019, Buck was arrested on charges of battery causing serious injury, administering methamphetamine and maintaining a drug house, Lacey’s office announced.

Federal charges were filed against Buck within days of the county charges and Buck was tried on the federal charges first.

Within a week of Buck’s conviction, his attorneys appealed the conviction, arguing that the government “utterly failed” to prove any of the federal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The motion contended that the only evidence that Buck distributed methamphetamine and other drugs at his apartment was bolstered by “the testimony of drug addicts” and should not have been believed.

Following Buck’s conviction in July, he was named in a lawsuit filed by the third man who nearly overdosed in Buck’s apartment.

Dane Brown’s suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges sexual battery, assault, hate violence, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and human trafficking. Brown seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Buck is awaiting sentencing in federal court and his trial in Los Angeles Superior Court as the case continues into 2022.

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