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Buntion's case was moved to Gillespie County. A jury there found him guilty of capital murder in March 1991 and sentenced him to death. His death sentence was overturned in 2009 by an appeals court because jurors were prevented from hearing mitigating evidence that could have convinced them to give him a lesser sentence.
Buntion was sentenced to death again after a new punishment hearing in March 2012. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that sentence in January 2016. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
John Earl Killingsworth, who also had a long rap sheet including multiple prison sentences and releases on parole, was not charged in connection to Irby's killing. He pleaded guilty to possession of heroin and was sentenced to five years in prison. He served 16 months of that sentence before being released in July 1992. Texas public criminal records do not contain any entries on him after that.
In Buntion's final appeals, his lawyers claimed that the death penalty was unjust in his case because of his age, poor health, long tenure in prison, and good disciplinary record. "A sentencing jury in 1991, and another in 2012, believed Buntion would be dangerous if not executed," they wrote in filing. "Time has revealed that belief to be false."
The week before his execution, Buntion was interviewed from Death Row by a reporter with KHOU-TV.
"Every day, for the last 32 years, I've regretted what happened," Buntion said. He stated that he drew his gun in self-defense and killed Officer Irby "because he was fixin' to kill me."
Irby left behind a wife, Maura, and two children, ages 3 and 1. Buntion said that if he could talk to Maura, he would tell her, "I'm sorry it happened. My heart aches every day for her and her kids."
"That's amazing," Maura said in a subsequent interview, "because he's never shown any kind of remorse for any of us. That's the first apology that I've heard that he's made."
A crowd of Irby family supporters, including a number of Houston police officers on motorcycles and various other members of law enforcement, stood outside the prison while Buntion was being executed. Anti-death-penalty protestors assembled on the other side of the street.
Members from both Irby and Buntion's families watched the execution from separate viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber.
Buntion began his lengthy last statement by thanking his family and supporters, addressing five of them by name. Next, he said, "I have a message to the Irby family. The shootout occurred June 27, 1990." He then recalled a visit in jail one week later from an off-duty sheriff's deputy named Michael Garret who gave him a small Bible, read from it, and urged him to accept Jesus Christ.
"I wanted the Irby family to know one thing," he continued. "I do have remorse for what I did. ..."I pray to God that they get the closure for me killing their father and Ms. Irby's husband." He told the Irby's two children, "I hope to see you in Heaven someday, and when you show up, I will give you a big hug."
Buntion concluded by thanking his friends again, saying "I am not going to say goodbye; just saying so long. I am ready to go." The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 6:39 p.m.
As the witnesses were leaving the prison, a KHOU camera caught a woman in Buntion's party make an obscene hand gesture at the police officers who were waiting for Irby's family to come outside. Maura Irby then came out, escorted by Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.
"I felt like I took the deepest breath I've been able to in the last 32 years," she said, addressing the crowd from a podium. "I feel joy. "I'm sorry that someone died, but I didn't think of him as a person. I just thought of him as a thing - a cancer."
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg took the podium to correct something Buntion said in his last statement. "There was no 'shootout,'" she said. "There was a murder of an officer in full uniform, in the line of duty."
Buntion was the oldest prisoner on Texas' Death Row and, reportedly, the oldest death row prisoner in the world. He was also the oldest inmate ever executed by the state of Texas. (The previous record holder was Billie Coble, who was 70.) His time on Death Row of 31 years and 46 days prior to execution is the second-longest in the state's history. There are currently ten Texas inmates on Death Row who arrived before him.
By David Carson. Posted on 22 April 2012.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, public records, KHOU-TV, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item, Texas Tribune