Ed Buck, a longtime fixture of West Hollywood politics, was convicted Tuesday of charges that he supplied the methamphetamine that killed two men during "party and play" encounters at his apartment.
In a gruesome case of an older white man using his power and money to exploit the poverty and drug addiction of younger Black men, the jury found Buck guilty of every charge in a nine-count indictment. Among them were maintaining a drug den, distribution of methamphetamine and enticement to cross state lines to engage in prostitution.
Buck, 66, could spend the rest of his life in prison. His two convictions for supplying the meth that resulted in death each carry a minimum sentence of 20 years.
The verdict concluded a two-week trial that featured harrowing testimony by men hired by Buck to show off their bodies in underwear and get high on crystal meth and the party drug GHB. Excerpts from Buck's hundreds of graphic videos and photos of the drugs-and-sex sessions left spectators wincing at the trial.
It was only in September 2019, after a third Black man nearly died of an overdose, that Buck was arrested — a delay that fueled angry protests by activists who accused law enforcement officials of failing to aggressively investigate a politically influential white man. Buck, a onetime candidate for West Hollywood's City Council, made more than $500,000 in campaign donations over the last couple of decades, nearly all of it to Democrats.
"Ed Buck will never harm anyone else, and I thank God for that," said Joyce Jackson, who with her sister Joann Campbell flew to L.A. from Tampa, Fla., to join their brother Timothy Dean's tight circle of friends at the trial.
Dean was an avid basketball player — one friend described his style as "poetic" — who worked as a fashion consultant at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The trial wound up giving voice to the men Buck victimized. Some of them were homeless and doing escort work to survive when Buck first invited them over; one lived in a tent under a 105 Freeway overpass. Buck paid the men extra when they let him inject them with meth, they testified. They said he enjoyed seeing them get so high that they lost control.
Videos played at the trial showed Buck touching some of the men sexually when they were asleep or unconscious.
"As much as this case is about Ed Buck, it's also about our housing crisis, and what it makes people feel they have to do — play Russian roulette with their lives just to have a roof over their heads," said Jasmyne Cannick, a political strategist who organized protests in the Buck case.
She said she was grateful that federal authorities took the Black victims seriously and said local prosecutors did not. “Our lives matter, our community matters, and just because someone is unhoused, an addict, may be a survival sex worker, or an escort, or HIV positive does not mean their lives don’t matter and we should look the other way when they show up dead in a white Democratic donor’s home.”
Following court rules for social distancing during the pandemic, the jury was spread out on benches of the public gallery in U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder's courtroom as she read the verdict on each of the nine counts shortly after 2 p.m.
"I know this has been an arduous, lengthy and difficult process," Snyder told jurors. During the trial, Snyder raised the possibility of offering counseling to jurors who might be traumatized, but she did not mention the idea on Tuesday.
In an overflow courtroom upstairs from Snyder's, family and friends of Moore and Dean burst into applause when the judge pronounced “guilty” the first of nine times. Some in the crowd sobbed as Snyder made her way through the jury’s verdict sheet.
After the jury’s dismissal, Assistant U.S. Atty. Chelsea Norell dropped to her knees and wept in a courthouse corridor. Assistant U.S. Atty. Lindsay Bailey, who prosecuted the case with her, hugged Norell.
Cory McLean, a close friend of Moore’s, walked out of the federal courthouse on West 1st Street in downtown Los Angeles and hollered: “Thank you, Lord!” McLean was carrying a small blue urn containing some of Moore’s ashes.
Buck's trial cast a light on a uniquely monstrous variation of the gay community's drug subculture. It showed how the gay hookup site Adam4Adam allowed Buck to advertise openly in his profiles that he was soliciting men to "party and play," a phrase well known to mean the use of crystal meth during sex encounters.
Some of the men who testified about using drugs in Buck's apartment broke down in tears on the witness stand. Several testified that Buck injected meth into their arms without their consent when they were passed out. They also told of Buck's repeated use of racial slurs.
Buck's lawyers, Christopher Darden and Ludlow Creary, portrayed his accusers as untrustworthy drug addicts who were simply out to make money.
"Did you inject or smoke any meth prior to coming to testify?" Darden asked one of the men, Dane Brown, on Friday.
"Absolutely not," Brown responded.
When Darden asked whether he'd tried to set up Buck for prosecution, Brown answered: "I'm here to speak the truth. I'm here to tell my story."
Outside the courthouse with the Moore and Dean family members after the trial adjourned, Brown — whose near-fatal overdose led to Buck's arrest — told reporters: "I didn't think I was going to be believed."
"I’m so relieved that these families can get the justice that they deserve because they're the ones who suffered pain more than I did," he said. "I made it out alive, but they’re suffering because they had to lose someone."
Los Angeles County coroner's officials at first ruled Moore's death was accidental. An initial review by sheriff's deputies found nothing suspicious. Sheriff's detectives did not launch a new investigation until after his mother, friends and activists questioned whether the drugs were self-administered.
In July 2018, the L.A. County district attorney's office declined to press charges, a decision that caused political trouble for D.A. Jackie Lacey in her unsuccessful run for reelection.
Eight months after Dean's death, Buck was arrested on Sept. 17, 2019, on state drug and battery charges. Two days later, federal authorities announced the charges that led to Buck's conviction on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of Moore's death.
Moore's mother, LaTisha Nixon of Texas, keeps his ashes by her bed and often tells him still that she loves and misses him. Moore was the oldest of Nixon's five children. She was a single mom working two jobs and said he was a responsible, good-humored son who helped cook his younger siblings' dinner and put them to bed.
“I was going to just lay in the bed today, which I have done for the past three years," she said outside the courthouse. "I just sleep the day away on the anniversary. I cry. And today, I had to get up and be here. Not just for Gemmel, but for Timothy Dean’s family and all the other victims.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.