A downtown jury Thursday got a close look at Ed Buck’s cluttered West Hollywood apartment, the scene of two drug-related deaths for which the former political donor is on trial.
Numerous color photographs of the apartment shown to jurors depicted walls painted dark red and blue, a mattress on the floor in front of a large- screen TV, boxes of men’s underwear, a collection of Halloween-style masks and a red tool chest allegedly filled with methamphetamine pipes, syringes and sex toys.
Prosecutors apparently tried to suggest that Buck lived in an environment designed for “party and play,” a term used by some gay men to describe a sexual encounter involving drugs.
On the third day of the Buck trial, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Grehtel Barraza testified that she responded to a call for service at Buck’s apartment on July 27, 2017, the date of 26-year-old Gemmel Moore’s death, and saw drug evidence in plain view in open drawers of a rolling tool cabinet.
The deputy told the panel that she noticed several “used syringes,” a “glass pipe” and a clear plastic bag containing a “crystal-like substance” she took to be methamphetamine in open drawers of the red tool chest. Sex toys were also exposed in another open drawer, Barraza said.
Defense attorneys had tried unsuccessfully in March and again Thursday — outside the presence of the jury — to have the judge throw out the deputy’s testimony, arguing that she could not have seen inside the drawers.
Buck faces nine felony counts, including two counts of distribution of controlled substances resulting in death stemming from the deaths of Moore in July 2017 and 55-year-old Dean in January 2019. If convicted, each of the two charges carry 20-year mandatory minimums.
Buck is additionally charged with knowingly enticing Moore to travel to Los Angeles to engage in prostitution.
He also faces a second count of enticing a different man to travel with the same intent; 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.
Prosecutors allege Buck had a “fetish” for paying Black men he met online to smoke and shoot methamphetamine, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. He also faces state charges of running a drug den, but the federal case is proceeding first.
The defense alleges that Buck was unfairly “selected” for prosecution for unexplained reasons. Party and play, Buck’s attorney Chris Darden told the jury, is “conduct millions of people engage in.”
Barraza also testified that as the scene of Moore’s death was being investigated, an unidentified man showed up at Buck’s front door carrying a suitcase and backpack, looking for Buck.
Another prosecution witness, Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Martindale, told jurors that while processing the scene in July 2017, he found syringes, rubber tubing, various items used for smoking and hiding methamphetamine, various types of drugs, a collection of fright masks, a gas mask and an electronic dog collar.
“I saw no evidence (Buck) had pets,” Martindale told the jury.
A search of Buck’s car revealed a box of used needles and numerous unused needles, the sheriff’s deputy testified.
In cross-examination, Darden suggested that some of the items allegedly used for methamphetamine were really for smoking marijuana.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Darden alleged that underlying medical conditions hastened the deaths of Moore and Dean, not the drugs they may have ingested in Buck’s presence.
Buck, 66, sat between his two attorneys as additional photos were shown to the jury, depicting Moore in death, his arms covered in tattoos and a small red puncture mark below one elbow.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Norell, Buck’s alleged “ritual” involved injecting men “over and over” with methamphetamine.
She alleged in her opening statement that even after Moore died, Buck “continued to insist that his dates get as high as possible.” Dean died at the apartment two years later.
Darden, however, argued that there is no evidence showing that “anyone was forced” to go to Buck’s apartment “for whatever reason.”
Best known for being part of the prosecution team in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, Darden described Buck on Wednesday as an advocate for LGBTQ and Black civil rights, animal rights and a supporter of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Buck has been in custody at a downtown federal lockup since his arrest.
The trial is expected to last at least 10 days, with the defense case expected to begin Wednesday or next Thursday.