Jury considers fate of former marine

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“Matthew Buendia was a U.S. Marine who came back from 3 deployments a different man, a broken man”, his defense attorney told the jury Friday morning during closing arguments at his trial for shooting a Hillsborough County Deputy.

Prosecutors painted a different picture saying “Buendia knew exactly what he was doing” when he shot at Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux nine times the night of September 30, 2011.

Deputy De Veaux was hit by three of those bullets, in the arm, leg and shoulder. 

She was called to Buendia’s Carrollwood area apartment to investigate a 911 call about domestic violence. When she got there, “Buendia tried to kill Deputy De Veaux” the prosecutor said Friday.  She survived but scars are permanent, he told the jury.

When the defense got their turn, the focus turned to the mental scars of war. They told jurors that three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan left Buendia traumatized. They asked the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity, saying he had no idea who he was or what he was doing that night.

Prosecutors asked for a guilty verdict.

Buendia is charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. If he is found guilty, he faces life in prison.  If not guilty by reason of insanity, he’ll go into treatment and could someday re-integrate into society.

He rejected an earlier plea deal that would have locked him away for 10 years.  Even before the shooting, Buendia had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

During the trial, a defense expert told the jury Buendia was on 16 different medications at the time of the shooting.  Some of the medications had side effects and some of them interacted with others, causing even more side effects, the witness explained.

Last week, the jury heard gripping testimony from Deputy De Veaux.  She was called to Buendia’s Carrollwood area apartment to investigate a domestic dispute.  She said when she first arrived Buendia came towards her and kept saying he was looking for his missing dog.  The next thing she knew, he pulled up his shirt, pulled out a gun and starting shooting.

“I saw two muzzle flashes”, De Veaux told the jury. She said she tried to reach her own weapon to return fire, but he came at her too fast.  "At that point, I turned my body to start to run and I felt a burning sensation in a couple of areas in my left shoulder and then I started feeling a burning sensation in my thigh. That's when I realized I had been shot," she testified.

De Veaux took refuge by ducking next to her patrol car.  Buendia’s girlfriend at the time, Jessica Gipson, sat inside the car in fear for her own life. 

She had met Deputy De Veaux at the apartment gate.  Moments later, Buendia emerged from the apartment and started firing.

"I saw her fall and then I looked back at Matthew.  I lay down in the car and squeezed my body as much as I could between the officer's seat and my seat to protect my vital organs because I knew he was going to shoot me and I knew I couldn't get out. I couldn't protect myself," said Gipson. 

Instead, Matthew Buendia went back inside as Deputy De Veaux radioed for help.  Back inside the apartment, Buendia called his father to tell him what happened.

Moments later, his dad made a frantic 911 call saying his son had shot an officer. “He is 25”, Richard Buendia told the operator. “He’s a former Marine. He suffers from Post-traumatic stress syndrome”.

That’s the theme the defense has returned to during the four years since the shooting.  And it’s the theme they hammered repeatedly to jurors throughout the two week trial.  They say after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Buendia came home a broken man.

It is now up to the jury to decide whether that excuses him for the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.