This article was updated on 4/5/22 to reflect the court's decision over Buck's request to have the charges dropped.
In Los Angeles, Monday, U.S. District Judge Christine A. Snyder heard arguments from wealthy white California Democratic donor Ed Buck’s attorney on why she should acquit him on three of the nine counts he was convicted of in 2021, and grant him a new trial. The charges were in connection with the deaths of two Black gay men and the drug overdoses of multiple others.
Judge Snyder began the hearing by doubling down on her previously issued tentative decision to deny Ed Buck’s motion for judgment acquittal but acknowledged that his attorney would probably want to make oral arguments.
“I’ve reviewed the papers,” said Judge Snyder. “I have reviewed all of the supplemental material provided by Mr. Werksman. I am not inclined to grant Defendant’s motion for judgment acquittal, nor do I think there’s an appropriate basis for a new trial.”
A motion for judgment of acquittal rests on the claim that the evidence at trial was insufficient for a conviction.
In July 2021, after a jury deliberated for more than four hours following a two-week trial, Ed Buck, 66, was found guilty of nine felony counts in federal court. Charges included distributing drugs and running a drug den amongst other things. The verdict came exactly four years after Gemmel Moore, one of Buck's victims, died.
Attorney Mark Werksman, who also represents disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, said in his oral arguments that there was an overwhelming prejudice created by an abundance of evidence designed to make Buck look like a “racist sexual deviant.”
“The court has a duty to ensure that the jury doesn’t get carried away by passion or prejudice,” argued Werksman. “And when a presentation is made that goes over the top with extraneous uncharged graphic conduct, it can tip the scale in favor of a conviction for grounds that we’ll never know whether they were based upon the facts related to the actual charged counts, or the charged conduct, or if the jury wasn’t simply swept away by a tsunami of evidence that portrayed Mr. Buck as a bad, bad evil sociopath.”
Some of the evidence presented to the jury included dozens of photos and videos from a library of over 2,400 pieces of media showing Buck torturing his victims, pressuring them to smoke and inject meth, sexually assaulting his victims while they were unconscious, and more. The jury was also presented with DNA evidence, dozens of Buck’s text messages, and financial records.
Judge Snyder reminded Werksman that the graphic evidence presented during the trial and used against him came from Buck himself.
“The problem here is that much of the evidence introduced at this trial came from Mr. Buck’s cell phone and his personal devices and things that he had maintained,” explained Judge Snyder.
On Counts 1 and 2, providing the drugs that killed Moore and Timothy Dean, Werksman argued that the legal but-for standard was not met.
In criminal law, the but-for test says that an action is a cause of an injury or death if, but for the action, the injury or death wouldn't have occurred. In this case, that but-for the methamphetamine, Dean and Moore would still be alive.
Werksman claimed 55-year-old Dean barged into Buck’s apartment in the middle of the night on January 7, 2019 “without being wanted and without being uninvited” and that his severe heart disease is what killed him, not the meth Buck gave him.
During the trial, jurors were shown text messages between Buck and Dean from the night in question and a video showing Buck letting Dean into his apartment building and then walking with him upstairs to his apartment.
Werksman argued that 26-year-old Moore, who died on the floor in Buck’s West Hollywood apartment in 2017 of a methamphetamine overdose, died of AIDS.
“He [Moore] had seizures, he had body tremors, he had AIDS, he had pulmonary edema which is consistent with AIDS but not consistent with methamphetamine overdose,” he argued.
Werksman asked the judge to reverse the conviction on count 7, which found Buck guilty of maintaining a drug-involved premise.
“Your honor knows this is a crack house statute that was intended to eliminate crack houses,” said Werksman. “It was his personal residence for 21 years. The place where he lived, worked, and yes — he did recreational drugs often. But to characterize it as a crack house is a vast exaggeration.”
“There was significant amounts of evidence both from the six charged victims, the additional victims who were not charged but who testified, and from various videos and surveillance camera footage showing that the defendant distributed drugs to numbers of nonresidential individuals outside of his home,” refuted federal prosecutor Lindsay Bailey. “And additionally, the testimony of Don Schultz indicated that he [Buck] was purchasing large quantities of methamphetamine on a regular basis such that Mr. Schultz actually recommended doubling his regular purchase quantities so that he could keep up with the demand from this defendant.”
Judge Snyder took today’s arguments under submission and said she will issue a ruling shortly.
Before the 20-minute hearing concluded, Buck’s attorney notified the judge that since Buck’s incarceration, Buck hasn’t had access to his bank accounts. Mr. Werksman said that Buck had several brokerage accounts with Vanguard and that he stopped receiving statements in June 2020 and that he doesn’t know much money is still in his accounts. Werksman said that Buck was submitting paperwork to put his mother on his account so that he could regain access through her. Before Buck is forced to pay restitution and fines, Buck wants to repay his mother and the IRS, which his attorney says he owes $180,000.
“Unfortunately, when someone's incarcerated, these brokerage firms will not deal with him,” Werksman explained. “He can't make phone calls to them. They won't accept his calls. He's not free to deal with them in a normal way.”
Werksman said if they don’t have access by the sentencing date he was going to ask the Court to delay any financial determination on the restitution and fine.
On Tuesday, the court denied Buck's motion for acquittal. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14 in Los Angeles. Several of his victims will read victim impact statements in court.
Prosecutors have recommended life in prison for Counts 1 and 2, providing the drugs that killed Moore and Dean, and a total 120 years for Counts 3-9 — distributing drugs, running a drug den and enticement to travel for purposes of prostitution. Prosecutors also want Buck to pay each victim approximately $52,000 and a $400,000 fine.
Disclosure: Jasmyne Cannick is an award-winning freelance journalist and political strategist. She spent four years investigating Ed Buck and humanizing his victims and her reporting became linked with the progression of the case. Beyond her journalism, she founded Justice for Gemmel and All of Ed Buck’s victims to help advocate for his arrest and conviction.