No one has ever been charged with killing Mystic schoolteacher Leslie Buck. A state medical examiner's autopsy does not label Buck's death a homicide.
But in a courtroom Monday, a place where Buck's sudden death in May 2002 has been a topic at numerous criminal and civil hearings, an attorney representing Buck's estate said for the first time in open court that prosecutors are investigating Leslie Buck's case as a homicide, with fingers pointing at Buck's husband, Charlie. The attorney, Shelley L. Graves, also accused Charlie Buck of concealing information about his wife's death.
Charlie Buck's attorney, Donald R. Beebe, fired back, saying the only party concealing information about Leslie Buck's death from Graves is the New London County state's attorney's office. Beebe offered to provide an affidavit from Buck - who was not in court Monday - denying he had any role in his wife's death.
Monday's hearing in Superior Court on Beebe's motion to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Charlie Buck brought to a head suspicion that has swirled around Buck since he found his wife dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in their home on May 4, 2002, two days after she had escaped a kidnapping.
That suspicion was highlighted in court documents Graves filed in August 2006 in which Graves alleged that Stonington police and New London prosecutors told her about "the existence of certain evidence" that indicates Leslie Buck "was the victim of a homicide and evidence that supported that Charles Buck" was the killer.
On Monday, Graves went a few steps beyond her earlier allegations, accusing Buck of misleading police about his whereabouts on the night his wife died and concealing the object responsible for the deadly injuries to her forehead.
Beebe, who is seeking a dismissal of the wrongful death lawsuit on grounds that the case - filed in May 2005 - was brought after the two-year statute of limitations for filing had expired, said "there is absolutely no evidence" that Charlie Buck killed his wife.
Graves said she is prepared to put former New London State's Attorney Kevin Kane - who is now the chief state's attorney - and Stonington Det. Sgt. David Knowles, the lead detective in the case, on the stand to testify about information in the case that they have kept secret. Both men are trying to quash subpoenas for their testimony. Whether they will testify hinges on how Judge A. Susan Peck rules on Beebe's motion to dismiss and another motion to strike one of Graves' affidavits. Kane declined to comment Monday.
The closest that frustrated investigators came to arresting someone in connection with Buck's death was the arrest of Russell Kirby, a handyman for the Bucks.
A Superior Court jury in July 2004 convicted Kirby of assaulting and kidnapping Leslie Buck, 57. He was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 21 years in prison. Kirby told the jury that he was defending himself against a hysterical Leslie Buck on May 2, 2002. He admitted wrestling her to the ground, shocking her with a stun gun and tying her arms behind her back.
The state Supreme Court in October 2006 reversed Kirby's conviction and ordered a new trial, which is pending. Buck refused to testify at Kirby's trial, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In April 2006, detectives used search warrants to gain access to Charlie Buck's Mason's Island Road home and his Stonington electrical business. Police have not said publicly what they were looking for and what, if anything, they found. Since May, the cold case unit of the chief state's attorney's office has been working with Stonington detectives to solve Leslie Buck's death, which police have labeled as "suspicious."
The state medical examiner's office says Leslie Buck died of head injuries, but it does not say how those injuries occurred. That office ruled that the manner of her death is "undetermined."
Dr. Barbara C. Wolfe, a Florida forensic expert hired by the attorneys representing Leslie Buck's estate, said her injuries were "inconsistent with an accidental fall" down the staircase. In addition to "blunt head trauma," Buck suffered "asphyxia due to neck compression," according to Wolfe's affidavit.
The state medical examiner's report notes three superficial abrasions on the back of her neck that are "consistent with the injury from the prongs of the stun gun" used in the earlier kidnapping.