The parole of Jon Buice, the last incarcerated member of the so-called Woodlands 10, was denied earlier this month. Buice is currently serving a 45-year sentence for his role in the Montrose murder of 27-year-old banker Paul Broussard on the Fourth of July in 1991.
In a nationally notorious precursor to the Matthew Shepard case, Broussard, a gay man, was beaten, kicked, clubbed and stabbed to death outside the nightclub Heaven. The murder helped to bring about Texas' first hate-crime legislation.
At the time of the murder, Buice was a 17-year-old senior at McCullough High School, and high on pot and acid. He alone carried and used a knife, and the autopsy report indicated that his three blows to Broussard's torso were fatal.
That is one reason that Buice, alone of the Woodlands 10, is still behind bars. Another is that some, including Broussard's mother Nancy Rodriguez, believe that Buice has not shown enough remorse, or did so only too late.
"Others seemed sorry, and said so right away, and it did mean something," Rodriguez told the Woodlands Villager News. She traveled from her home in Georgia to attend Buice's parole board hearings, and she says that Buice should serve at least 27 years, one for each year her son was alive. Buice will be up for parole again next Fall, and Rodriguez says she plans to lobby against his release then too
Victims rights activist Andy Kahan says Buice's one-year set-off between parole hearings is both "troubling" and "bittersweet."
"It means we" -- he has been helping Rodriguez deny Buice's parole for some time - "have to turn right around within about six months and begin the whole process all over again."
Kahan told the Villager News that Buice's tender years at the time of the crime and his commendable prison record might be the reasons that his parole is considered each year, rather than every two or five years. To Kahan, neither of those factors excuse his crime, as he told the Villager News.
"The reality is that, no matter how you want to weigh these factors, he took Paul's life. That supercedes anything. And the only thing left for us to do is to continue to deprive him of his liberty like he deprived Paul of his life."
Gay rights and prison activist Ray Hill disagrees. He believes that Buice's original sentence was far too harsh. What's more, Hill believes that Buice is truly rehabilitated. Hill makes much of both Buice's contrition and his efforts to improve himself -- he has earned two degrees while imprisoned.
Also, after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, Buice penned an open letter to Houston's gay community, which stated, in part: "The gay and lesbian community of Houston I owe a momentous apology, a repentance for an act of atrocity. If it were possible, I would sacrifice my own life to bring Paul back."
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Hill's support of Buice is somewhat ironic. After all, in the aftermath of the murder, it was his agitation on KPFT and elsewhere in the media that many credit with helping bring the Woodlands Ten to justice.
Since then, Hill has expressed the belief that Broussard's death was not a hate crime and that Buice is no homophobe. He believes that Broussard's death resulted less from bigotry than a combustible combination of testosterone, peer pressure, immaturity and intoxicants, and he has pledged to one day turn over the host's chair of his long-running Friday night KPFT staple The Prison Show to Buice when he is released, and once said he hoped one day to ride a float alongside Buice in the Houston Gay Pride parade.
Hill's stance has caught plenty of flak from some in the gay community and most in the victim's right lobby. He has also been accused of taking up Buice's case only to attract attention to himself, which seems unlikely, because Hill was very reticent to talk to Hair Balls about Buice's denied parole. Not that he didn't have anything to say on the matter...
"I have a lot to say about it, but I will save that for Jon and close friends," he says. "I will leave the circus to Andy Kahan."