NEW LONDON—There was some sense of satisfaction among those close to Leslie Buck that the Ledyard handyman convicted Tuesday of kidnapping and beating her will pay for his role in the terrifying ordeal.
Russell Kirby, 66, whom Buck identified as her attacker in a dramatic 911 tape played for jurors during his trial, faces up to 21 years in prison for the May 2, 2002, abduction. He was found guilty of assault and kidnapping, and acquitted of lesser charges, including burglary.
"Leslie's mom and brother are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence. They hope and expect that the police investigation will continue until the circumstances of Leslie's tragic death are fully understood,'' said Thomas J. Murphy, the attorney for Buck's brother, Richard Edmonston of Worcester.
Buck's husband, Charles, told police that he found his wife dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in their Mystic home on May 4, 2002, two days after she was abducted. She died of head injuries. No one has been charged in her death, but Stonington Police Chief David P. Erskine has labeled it "suspicious.''
Erskine and other police officials were in court last week when Charles Buck cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions from Kirby's defense lawyer, Jeremiah Donovan, who asked Buck if he was responsible for his wife's kidnapping and her death.
Privately, police officials said they hoped Donovan could get a response from Buck, who has declined to answer questions in previous legal hearings. Donovan maintained that he was questioning Buck as a means to defend Kirby, though he noted that the prosecutor seemed to be on his side.
Donovan's questioning didn't add any pieces to a puzzle that has gripped this shoreline community for more than two years. Police have questioned Charles Buck in connection with his wife's death, but he has denied any involvement and has hired an attorney who has advised him not to answer questions.
"The reason this case has taken hold of many of the folks in Connecticut and Rhode Island is because it highlights our vulnerability and dependence upon our spouses,'' Donovan said. "It's also a mystery today and it looks as if it will continue to be a mystery forever.''
But Leslie Buck's friends and police don't think that's the case.
"One day at a time,'' said Norma Paradis of Mystic, Leslie Buck's neighbor.
One of those days was Tuesday.
Neither Buck's brother, Richard Edmonston, nor her mother, Catherine Edmonston, was in court Tuesday to hear the verdict against Kirby. Catherine Edmonston, who is 92, attended most of the trial.
But a handful of current and retired teachers -- people Buck's mother referred to as her daughter's "great legacy of friends'' -- were there for the outcome.
"Les was on our shoulder the whole time,'' an emotional Judy Barber of Westerly, R.I., said.
Barber testified during the trial that Leslie Buck went to work the day after the kidnapping, saying Buck wanted to be with her friends and her students instead of staying at home.
"But she's not with us,'' said another friend, Anna Greene of Stonington. "And that's the hard part.''
The jury of three men and three women deliberated for about 90 minutes Monday and about four hours on Tuesday before finding Kirby guilty of assault and kidnapping. The jury acquitted him of lesser charges; he had faced up to 61 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The defense had argued that, as an employee of the Buck family hired to do odd jobs around their home, Kirby had permission to be in the Bucks' garage. It was in the garage, according to testimony, where Kirby and Leslie Buck confronted one another on the night of May 2, 2002.