Huntsville, Texas — Texas’ longest-serving death row inmate was executed Thursday for killing a Houston police officer during a traffic stop nearly 32 years ago.
Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was executed at Huntsville State Penitentiary. He was convicted of the June 1990 fatal shooting of Houston police officer James Irby, a member of the force for nearly 20 years.
The US Supreme Court rejected a request by Buntion’s lawyers to stop his execution.
“I wanted the Irby family to know one thing: I feel remorse for what I did,” Buntion said as he was strapped to the stretcher in the Texas execution chamber. “I pray to God they get closure for killing his father and Mrs. Irby’s husband.
“I hope to see you in heaven one day and when you show up I’ll give you a big hug.”
Buntion, accompanied by his spiritual adviser, began praying the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…” as he began the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital. He took a deep breath, coughed once, then took three shallower breaths before all movement stopped.
He was pronounced dead at 6:39 pm, 13 minutes later.
Several dozen motorcyclists, showing their support for the slain motorcycle officer, noisily revved up their engines as the execution took place, the roar clearly audible in the death chamber.
Buntion had been on probation for just six weeks when he shot 37-year-old Irby. Buntion, who had an extensive criminal record, was a passenger in the car that Irby stopped. In 2009, an appeals court overturned Buntion’s sentence, but another jury sentenced him to death again three years later.
“I feel joy,” said the officer’s widow, Maura Irby, after watching Buntion’s execution. “I’m sorry someone died. But I didn’t think of him as a person. I just thought of him as a thing, like a cancer on my family’s face.”
Before his murder, James Irby had talked about retiring and spending more time with his two sons, who were 1 and 3 at the time, Maura Irby, 60, previously said.
“I was ready to fill out the paperwork and stay home and open a grocery store,” he said. “He wanted to be the dad that was there to go to all the ball games and father-daughter dances. He was a super man, the love of my life.”
Prior to his execution, various state and federal courts also rejected appeals by Buntion’s attorneys to stop his death sentence. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday denied his request for clemency.
Buntion’s lawyers said he was responsible for Irby’s death and “deserved to be severely punished for that crime.”
But they argued that his execution was unconstitutional because the jury’s conclusion that he would be a future danger to society, one of the reasons he received the death sentence, was found to be incorrect, and also his execution would serve no legitimate purpose because he has passed long time. since his conviction. His attorneys described Buntion as a geriatric inmate who posed no threat as he suffered from arthritis, vertigo and needed a wheelchair.
“This three-decade delay undermines the justification for the death penalty… Any deterrent effect is diminished by the delay,” his attorneys David Dow and Jeffrey Newberry wrote in court papers.
With his execution, Buntion became the oldest person Texas has sentenced to death since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. Oldest inmate executed in the US in modern times It waswhen he was executed in Alabama in 2018.
Buntion was also the first inmate executed in Texas in 2022. Although Texas has been the busiest capital punishment state in the country, it had been nearly seven months since he carried out an execution. There have been only three executions in each of the last two years, due in part toand legal delays over Texas’ refusal to allow spiritual advisors to touch inmates and pray aloud in the execution chamber.
In March, the US Supreme Court said states must accept requests for religious leaders to pray and touch inmates during executions.
As Texas prepared to execute Buntion, officials from thein what would have been the first state execution since the start of the pandemic. Oscar Smith, 72, was scheduled to die for the 1989 murders of his estranged wife and his teenage children. Republican Gov. Bill Lee did not elaborate on what issue prompted the surprise last-minute halt to the planned execution.
Texas prison officials granted Buntion’s request to allow his spiritual adviser to pray aloud and touch him as he was executed.
The adviser, Barry Brown, placed his right hand on Buntion’s right ankle moments before the drugs began to flow and prayed for about five minutes. He said that Buntion was no longer a “stubborn young man” but that he had been “humiliated by the walls and cold steel of prison”.
While the execution sparked painful memories for her, Irby said it also reminded her of her public safety advocacy work after her husband’s death, including helping craft legislation that allowed for victim impact statements at trials. .
“I still miss him, 32 years later,” he said Thursday night.