A jury of seven women and five men was sworn in Tuesday for the federal criminal trial of former political donor Ed Buck, who is accused of providing methamphetamine to two men who overdosed and died in his West Hollywood apartment.
The panel, along with three female alternates, was chosen after a daylong process in which some of the 50 prospective jurors were brought to tears when questioned about sensitive topics such as drug use among family members and close friends. Others told of personal tragedies or encounters with law enforcement that left one man "bitter about the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department."
When queries got too uncomfortable for public airing, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder allowed responses to be provided in private behind closed doors.
The pool reflected a cross-section of the region's population, taking in people ranging in age from their mid-20s to their late 60s. Occupations included teachers, a flight attendant, retired nurses, an unemployed actor, a greenhouse manager, pharmacists, a fitness instructor, and a "personal assistant to a famous artist" who said she had twice been "drugged unknowingly."
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Buck, 66, sat quietly beside his two attorneys during the proceedings. Snyder had asked everyone in the courtroom to remain masked and socially distanced except when speaking, and because of the number of seats that were kept vacant, a secondary courtroom with a video screen was in use for non-jury members.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the downtown Los Angeles federal courthouse. The trial is expected to last between eight and 10 days.
Buck is accused of paying Black men to allow him to inject them with methamphetamine — even while they were passed out. He also faces state charges of running a drug den, but the federal case is proceeding first.
A trial memorandum alleges Buck lured vulnerable, homeless gay men, who were addicted to drugs or working as escorts, to his Laurel Avenue apartment, where he provided drugs in exchange for sexual activity. The alleged practice turned lethal when Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean died of overdoses, according to prosecutors.
Buck's attorney, Christopher Darden, best known for being part of the prosecution team in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, has not responded to numerous requests for comment.
The juror questionnaire touched on prior drug experiences and views on prostitution, homelessness and law-breakers who cooperate with law enforcement in hopes of getting a break.
Federal prosecutors also wanted to know if potential panelists or their friends or family ever had a drug problem, or whether any close friends or relatives have been drugged against their will.
"Have you had a close friend or relative die of a drug overdose?" was among the questions asked of potential panelists.
Almost every one of the 50 people who stood at the podium before the judge told of a drug dependency or a drug-related death within their family.
Buck faces nine felony counts, including two counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death. The counts stem from the deaths of 26-year-old Moore in July 2017 and Dean in January 2019. If convicted, each of the two charges carry 20-year mandatory minimums.
Buck is also charged with knowingly enticing Moore to travel to Los Angeles to engage in prostitution, and providing him with crystal methamphetamine before he overdosed on the drug and died. Buck is facing a second count of enticing a different man to travel with the intent of engaging in prostitution; one count of knowingly and intentionally distributing methamphetamine; and one count of using his West Hollywood apartment for the purpose of distributing narcotics such as methamphetamine, and the sedatives gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and clonazepam.
At the apartment, Buck "prepared methamphetamine syringes in a ritualistic fashion; some victims report that he required them to watch him do it," the trial memorandum alleges. "Buck's preference was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims to let him do so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree to an injection or additional injections. Other times, Buck simply injected victims while they were unconscious."
The document describes "party and play" sessions in which Buck allegedly paid men he sometimes solicited from online gay male dating and escort sites to use drugs he provided, and perform sexual acts.
Buck was arrested in September 2019 after being charged in federal court with providing the methamphetamine that led to the overdose death of Moore. He was indicted weeks later in connection with the death of Dean.
"Sadly, neither of these deaths deterred defendant from continuing to distribute methamphetamine through party and play sessions," prosecutors allege in court papers.
Buck has been in custody at a downtown federal lockup since his arrest.