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Last of ‘Woodlands Ten’ to Stay in Prison

One month after the 20th anniversary of the beating of 27-year-old banker Paul Broussard on a Montrose-area street and his subsequent death, the parole board at a Texas prison has reversed its decision to release the last of the infamous “Woodlands Ten” from jail.

The move to keep Jon Buice in prison came less than a month after its July 1 initial decision.  In that earlier decision, the release was to have taken place as early as October, and was to have included restrictions such as electronic monitoring.

The board withdrew its approval for parole based on what it said was new information not previously submitted for review. Details were not immediately released.

Nancy Rodriguez, Broussard’s mother, has fought Buice’s parole, which was denied four times before.  She has repeatedly appealed to the public to support her with letters, which she took to the parole board hearings, but this time was different.

“I went into the parole hearing thinking this was not ‘when’ [he would be released] but a matter of whether we would get more time before the next hearing,” she said.  “[Hearing about the decision] was horrible, because the fourth of July was the anniversary of Paul’s death.”

The killing of Broussard quickly became a news sensation when it occurred in 1991.  Fueled by a two-day drinking binge, the 10 men—Jaime Aguirre, Javier Aguirre, Derrick Attard, Buice, Chance Paul Dillon, Rafael Gonzales, Gayland Randle, Leandro Ramirez, Brian Spake, and Jeffrey Valentine—ended their night of harassing people around the streets of Montrose when they asked Broussard and his two friends where they could find Heaven, a popular gay nightclub in the area.

The group chased the men and jumped on Broussard, beating and kicking him. Buice then stabbed Broussard, and he died of his wounds in a Houston hospital.  Seven members of the group were teenagers at the time Broussard was killed.

The killing immediately touched off a firestorm of protests and debate over hate crimes and discrimination plaguing the gay community.  With the assistance of Ray Hill, a longtime gay activist in Houston who was at the front of a push to punish what he initially called “The Woodlands Ten,” the men were identified, caught, and, after trial, were sentenced to probation or imprisonment.

Buice received the highest sentence of 45 years in prison; the other nine members of the group have since been released from their related sentences.

The imprisonment of Buice has taken on a symbolic meaning to the gay and lesbian community, and the announcement of his pending release drew protests from individuals and organizations around the country.

“This wasn’t a done deal,” said Andy Kahan, director of the City of Houston Mayor’s Crime Victims Office.  “We had options before us. We knew we could have this reversed, so we presented the panel with new and relevant information that they haven’t received before.”

Along with the information given to the board supporting a reversal were numerous letters from national organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.  Texas State Representatives Garnett Coleman and Senator John Whitmire also weighed in against the release based on calls from Kahan and others.

The story is not without its continuing twists and turns.  Over the years Hill has reversed his stance on Buice’s imprisonment and is pushing to have him released.  He said that Buice is not homophobic, and said that many of the claims he used in 1991 to help locate Broussard’s killers were never true, but continue to be used today.

“The myth of a bunch of spoiled, homophobic brats who came to Montrose to beat up some gay guys persists to this day, and I’m sorry about it,” he said.  “What this story is about is not that this is a hate-motivated crime; it is about a bunch a young men who got drunk and stoned beyond their ability to handle it, and they got in an altercation, and it cost the life of someone else.

“The lesson here,” he added, “is that when you’re 17 years old, you can’t handle drugs and alcohol in a responsible way.”

Hill believes that the intercession by Coleman in the fight over Buice’s future is wrong.

“I went to the state capitol to file ethics charges on Garnett Coleman…[for] charges of violating house ethics by interfering with the objective decision of a state agency,” he said.  “If you let this happen—if you let politicians threaten the parole board to reverse a decision it has made—there will be no end to it.”

Hill said he may even run against Coleman for his seat.

Buice, meanwhile, has shown regret for his actions: in 1999, he wrote a letter to the gay community which was published in the Houston Voice in which he apologized for his part in Broussard’s killing.

The fight on both sides between Buice’s release and his continued imprisonment will resume next year, when the parole board will decide on his fate again.

“We cherish what we’ve achieved today, but the harsh reality is that we’ll be back at it again,” Kahan said.  “We’ve only got one year, so come next August my guess is that Nancy will fly down from Atlanta at her own expense to attend that hearing.”

In the meantime, Rodriguez is focusing on seeking justice for her son, which she said calls for a minimum service of 27 years—the length of time Broussard was alive.

“I’m not stupid,” she said. “They’re not going to keep him there for 45 years. But I want [Buice] to stay in jail for Paul’s entire lifetime. He had so much left to do; he was going to go back and get a master’s degree and all kinds of things.”

She sees her fight to keep Buice in prison as sending a message to people who might consider victimizing gay and lesbian people.

“I believe in justice, and I’m not backing away,” she said. “This is not just for me and my family; I feel I’m doing this through the whole gay community, because people can’t keep doing these things.”


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