After a lengthy recap of a seven-day hearing that was scant on physical evidence but had buckets of possible motive, Judge Susan B. Handy on Thursday ruled that Charles Buck will go on trial on a charge of murdering his wife in 2002.
Prosecutors could not produce a murder weapon or DNA evidence linking Buck, arrested in January, to the death of his wife, Leslie Buck, a schoolteacher.
A coroner ruled that Leslie Buck died of a head injury, but could not say that it was homicide.
But prosecutors presented a titillating story of a married, successful man enamored of a younger woman whom he showered with gifts, including two cars, a $235,000 house and a $15,000, 2 1/2-carat diamond ring.
Handy said that the law gives equal weight to circumstantial and direct evidence. The cumulative weight of the evidence presented during the hearing established sufficient evidence that Leslie Buck was murdered and that Charles Buck committed the crime.
Handy rejected a request by defense attorney Hubert Santos to lower Buck's $2.5 million bail to $1 million. He said that Buck, 62, had real estate valued at $2.1 million that he could use and had deep roots in the community as an electrical contractor.
The case was continued until Aug. 6, but it was unclear when the jury trial will begin.
In a 45-minute review of the 17 witnesses who testified at Superior Court in New London, Handy started with the 911 call that Buck made on May 4, 2002, reporting that he had found his wife at the bottom of the stairs in their Stonington home. She had no pulse, was not breathing and was ice-cold.
Two days earlier, Leslie Buck had been the target of an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt. Russell Kirby, who sometimes worked for Charles Buck, is awaiting retrial after his kidnapping conviction was overturned.
Police have theorized that Buck hit his wife with a wire bar. They could find nothing on the staircase that would cause the cut she had on her head, there was little blood and no signs of forced entry into the house.
Handy recounted the relationship that developed between Buck and Carol Perez, a bartender at the Drawbridge Inn in Mystic, where he did electrical work but became a regular after Perez started working there.
Co-workers testified that he would visit the bar almost daily, sitting at the bar for hours talking to Perez, whom a waitress described as "very pretty, very voluptuous, very vivacious."
Frequent dinners out and shopping sprees soon followed. He called her "sweetheart," she called him "hon," although both have insisted that the relationship was never sexual.
There was testimony that Buck had tried to hire someone to kill Perez's former boyfriend, whom she said was harassing her. Buck later told police that it was a joke.
Perez testified that she also thought Buck was joking when he asked her to run away with him on the day of his wife's death. She later accepted the diamond ring he gave her, which he described to the jewelry store sales clerk as being for his engagement.
During the hearing, Santos described the relationship as a friendship and insisted that Buck loved his wife.
Santos said that the charge against Buck was "very defensible" and that he would argue that Leslie Buck was not murdered.
A STRANGE TALE ON THE SHORELINE
May 2, 2002: Leslie Buck, 57, kidnapped, but escapes. Handyman Russell Kirby charged.
May 4, 2002: Charles Buck tells police he found his wife's body at the bottom of the stairs in their house.
July 27, 2004: Kirby convicted of kidnapping Leslie Buck.
May 19, 2005: Lawsuit accuses Buck of having affair, asking Kirby to kill his wife.
July 2: Buck ordered to stand trial in his wife's death.