By ALAINE GRIFFIN and JOSH KOVNER
The Hartford Courant
January 23, 2009
From the beginning, police were suspicious about the story Leslie Buck's husband told about her death nearly seven years ago.
And now police say they've found a pattern of "inconsistencies" that unravels Charlie Buck's story that he found the popular, 57-year-old schoolteacher dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Mystic home when he returned from work on May 4, 2002.
Detectives arrested Buck, 62, of Stonington, at a local coffee shop Thursday morning and charged him with murder in the death of Leslie Buck, signaling a breakthrough in a case that has long frustrated detectives and prosecutors.
Police wouldn't say publicly Thursday what evidence finally led them to charge Buck in his wife's death. A Superior Court judge Thursday ordered the arrest warrant affidavit sealed for two weeks.
But sources close to the case said that with the help of cold-case investigators from the chief state's attorney's office, detectives scrutinized all statements Charlie Buck made to people after his wife's death and found what they called a pattern of inconsistencies. Though no eyewitnesses or DNA link him to the death, sources said detectives have put together a "substantial circumstantial" case.
But Charlie's Buck's attorney, Donald R. Beebe, on Thursday called that circumstantial case "extremely weak," saying investigators have "nothing new" to justify an arrest.
During an arraignment Thursday afternoon in Superior Court in New London - in which a judge ordered Buck held, with bail set at $2.5 million - Beebe said Buck "has major defenses to the allegations" outlined in the sealed affidavit. He said Buck gave no confessions or admissions, and no scientific evidence points to Buck.
Stonington Police Chief Darren Stewart countered Beebe's assessment, saying at a news conference Thursday afternoon, "I'm pleased with the case at this point - there's more work to do. It's a strong case, or otherwise we wouldn't be here."
He said the half-dozen Stonington detectives who worked on the investigation for years without giving up showed a great deal of tenacity.
Leslie Buck's brother, Richard Edmonston, said Thursday he told his mother, Catherine, 97, about Buck's arrest. "She really didn't have anything much to say, but she's doing OK," Edmonston said.
The Bucks were a well-known couple who lived in the picturesque Mason's Island community. Charlie Buck, a longtime volunteer firefighter and tax district president, runs his own electrical contracting business. Leslie Buck was a beloved second-grade teacher at Deans Mill School.
But the couple's popularity wasn't the only reason Leslie Buck's death rocked Connecticut's tranquil shoreline.
Events leading up to Buck's death made it a mystery. Two days before her death, Leslie Buck escaped an alleged abduction by a handyman who had worked for the Bucks doing odd jobs around their home.
Though she died of head injuries, the state medical examiner could not determine whether Buck's death was a homicide or in any way linked to the injuries she suffered in the abduction in which, according to court testimony, Buck was zapped with a stun gun and beaten.
A Superior Court jury in July 2004 convicted the handyman, Russell Kirby of Ledyard, of assaulting and kidnapping Leslie Buck. He was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 21 years in prison, but the state Supreme Court in October 2006 reversed Kirby's conviction and ordered a new trial, which is pending.
Stonington detectives appeared frequently at Kirby's trial. They had always hoped Kirby would talk about Charlie Buck's alleged links to the crime. But those hopes were dashed when Kirby's testimony failed to point any fingers. Their frustration grew when it came time for Charlie Buck to take the stand.
In a dramatic and tense exchange with Kirby's defense lawyer - high-profile defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan - Buck refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
After Kirby's trial, Stonington detectives sought other investigative avenues - searching Buck's home and business in April 2006 and utilizing the expertise of the state's cold-case unit, veteran detectives with a knack for dusting off old criminal files and solving unsolved killings.
And detectives were always nagged by a pending wrongful death lawsuit against Charlie Buck filed by Shelley L. Graves, an attorney for Leslie Buck's estate, that threatened to put former prosecutors and detectives on the witness stand to testify about information in the case they have kept secret.
In a hearing on the civil case last January, Graves said for the first time in open court that prosecutors were investigating Leslie Buck's case as a homicide, with fingers pointing at Charlie Buck. Graves accused Charlie Buck of concealing information about his wife's death.
Buck, balding and wearing a blue work shirt, jeans and sneakers, limped to the defense table at his arraignment Thursday. Prosecutors called Buck a flight risk, saying the freedom and peace he's enjoyed for more than six years since his wife's death was suddenly shattered by the arrest, and the criminal charges were sure to be weighing heavily on him.
Beebe disagreed, saying Buck's age and lifelong ties to Stonington all but guarantee he will appear for future court hearings.
Judge Kevin P. McMahon - who signed the arrest warrant affidavit for Buck's arrest - kept Buck's bail at $2.5 million.
Beebe called Buck's bail "excessive," saying "to hold him on a $2.5 million bond is to begin his sentence today."
Buck is scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 9.
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