The Travis County district attorney’s office’s Public Integrity Unit is reviewing evidence that suggests a state lawmaker illegally released an inmate’s disciplinary file to a victims’ rights advocate in an effort to prevent a high-profile convicted murderer’s release from prison.
Jon Buice, who pleaded guilty to the 1991 murder of 27-year-old Paul Broussard, is the last of 10 men serving time for the Houston man’s beating and stabbing death, a crime that prosecutors said was fueled by prejudice against gays. Buice’s attorney, Bill Habern, alleges that an unknown lawmaker obtained confidential disciplinary records and shared them with advocates for Broussard’s family in 2011 when the inmate was denied parole.
“I don’t mind somebody on the other side playing his best game against me, but when they start violating the law, …,” Habern said.
Buice, who at age 17 admitted to stabbing Broussard and was sentenced to 45 years in prison, was up for parole in 2011. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles initially granted the request despite letters from lawmakers and pleading from Broussard's mother, Nancy Rodriguez, and longtime Houston victims’ advocate Andy Kahan. But the board quickly revoked the parole decision, and Buice was never released. His parole was denied again in 2012, and he is set to come up for parole again this fall, and Habern said he wants to know which lawmaker illegally released Buice’s information.
The parole process in Texas is highly secretive, and inmates’ disciplinary files are considered confidential under the law. Lawmakers, because of their responsibility to oversee state agencies, can obtain documents under the auspices of their office for legislative purposes. But they can be subject to criminal penalties for releasing such private information to members of the public.
“The matter is under review,” said Rob Drummond, an assistant district attorney in the Public Integrity Unit. “Because it’s under review, we don’t have any other comment on it.”
In two separate video-recorded interviews, Kahan told a Canadian documentary film crew that a female state representative helped him and Rodriguez to obtain access to Buice’s disciplinary file.
“There should be total transparency,” Kahan said in the recorded interview, arguing that victims’ families should have access to inmate disciplinary records. Kahan said the state representative would “remain unnamed.”
During the parole hearing, Kahan said that he and Rodriguez were led to believe that Buice’s disciplinary record was minimal and that he had been a model inmate. Still, they wanted Buice to remain in prison for at least 27 years after Broussard’s death, reasoning that the man who killed him should spend the same amount of time incarcerated as Broussard spent alive.
Rodriguez said in a phone interview that she then learned through her own investigating — which included correspondence with inmates who knew Buice and document requests to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — that he wasn’t a model prisoner. She said she learned that Buice had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a female prison chaplain and that he had several disciplinary infractions.
“For years, we were told he had absolutely no problems, not a one,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. “And it’s just appalling to me.”
Rodriguez, however, said she never saw Buice’s disciplinary file, but instead that she called a state legislator who simply confirmed what she had discovered in her own investigation. She declined to name the lawmaker.
“It’s called justice,” she said. “He needs to pay for his crime.”
In a phone interview, Kahan initially said he had “no earthly clue” about the disciplinary file. He said that several lawmakers Houston-area lawmakers helped fight to keep Buice behind bars, including state Sen. Rodney Ellis, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Reps. Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar and Senfronia Thompson. He added that Rodriguez had received information from a lawmaker who had previously sent the Parole Board letters protesting Buice’s release. He said he didn't recall which lawmaker provided the information.
An aide to Thompson said the legislator did not recall providing information to Rodriguez or Kahan.
Farrar did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Habern, Buice’s lawyer, said his client denied being involved with the prison chaplain and that there was no evidence to confirm a clandestine relationship. The other infractions, he said, were minor, including one for hanging a clothesline in the cell during an unapproved time period and another for possessing sunglasses and too many pairs of shorts.
Buice has used his time in prison to get an education and is currently working on a master’s degree at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon.
“He continues to behave himself,” Habern said.
Habern also argued that although Buice admits to having stabbed Broussard, the crime wasn’t motivated by prejudice but was a result of young men and “pack mentality.”
Buice, who has already served more than 20 years, was inaccurately portrayed as the perpetrator of a hate crime, Habern said.
“Kahan got the press and the gay community involved,” Habern said. “Now, he’s getting stuff from a file that’s illegal.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that 2011 was not the last time that Jon Buice was up for parole.
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