UPDATE: Tonight the State of Texas put to death Carl Wayne Buntion, the first execution in the state in over six months. At age 78, Buntion is the oldest person executed by the State of Texas. We are grateful to his attorneys, who fought valiantly to stop his execution, and to everyone who supported Buntion’s request for clemency. This execution is a terrible stain on the State of Texas.
Barring a last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Carl Wayne Buntion today, April 21, 2022. In 1990, Buntion killed a Houston police officer, Jim Irby, and was sentenced to death in Harris County a year later; he does not contest his guilt. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new punishment trial after determining that the jury in his 1991 trial was not able to fully consider mitigating evidence, and in 2012, a second Harris County jury sentenced Buntion to death.
After spending more than thirty years on death row, Buntion is now a frail and disabled 78-year-old man who requires specialized care, including the use of a wheelchair, to perform basic functions. He is the oldest man on death row and if executed, would be the oldest individual executed in Texas to date. Buntion does not pose a threat to anyone, demonstrated by both his history of behavior as an inmate and his debilitating health conditions. His execution would do nothing to improve public safety and would be a gross, unnecessary spectacle of retribution and cruelty.
In a petition filed on March 30, 2022, his attorneys asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Governor Greg Abbott grant him clemency or a 90-day reprieve, noting the jury’s false assessment of future dangerousness, which qualified Buntion’s eligibility for the death penalty. This false assessment raises issues with Texas’s unique sentencing instructions as it pertains to future dangerousness. Attorneys for Buntion also assert that no legitimate purpose would be served by executing him now, after serving over twenty years in solitary confinement on death row, a punishment in itself and one that he was not sentenced to in court. The petition claims that his execution would violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. On April 19, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously not to recommend clemency or a reprieve. Buntion’s attorneys have also raised these legal issues in court and litigation is currently pending in federal court.
Buntion was rushed to the hospital last week with chest pains, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. This diagnosis raises questions to the ethics of this execution, particularly the possibility of an increased or excessive amount of pain. He also sustained a head injury, including an open wound on the scalp, during a traffic incident on the way back to the prison. In light of these concerns, Governor Greg Abbott has the power to singlehandedly grant a 30-day stay of execution, sparing Buntion (and Texas) from the risk of a botched or unnecessarily painful execution.
If the execution proceeds, Buntion will be the first individual to be executed in Texas in more than six months. Harris County accounts for more executions (130) than any state except Texas and twice as many as any other county. More than one-third of the 198 individuals currently on death row were convicted in Harris County. Buntion would be the first individual to be executed by the State of Texas this year and would precede three subsequent execution dates set for 2022, including the execution date for John Ramirez which is expected to be withdrawn, and the scheduled execution of Melissa Lucio on April 27.