Texas’ oldest death row inmate was executed Thursday for killing a Houston police officer during a traffic stop nearly 32 years ago. Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was executed at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. He was condemned for the June 1990 fatal shooting of Houston police officer James Irby, a nearly 20-year member of the force. The US Supreme Court had declined a request by Buntion’s attorneys to stop his execution, the AP reports. “I wanted the Irby family to know one thing: I do have remorse for what I did,” Buntion said while strapped to the Texas death chamber gurney. "I pray to God that they get the closure for me killing their father and Ms. Irby's husband. I hope to see you in heaven some day and when you show up I will give you a big hug.” With his execution, Buntion became the oldest person Texas has put to death since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976.
Buntion, joined by his spiritual adviser, began praying Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd...” as the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began. He took a deep breath, coughed once, then took three less pronounced breaths before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:39pm, 13 minutes later. Several dozen motorcyclists, showing support for the slain motorcycle officer, loudly revved their engines as the execution took place, the roar clearly audible in the death chamber. Buntion had been on parole for just six weeks when he shot the 37-year-old Irby. Buntion, who had an extensive criminal record, was a passenger in the car that Irby pulled over. In 2009, an appeals court vacated Buntion’s sentence, but another jury resentenced him to death three years later. Irby had a 1- and a 3-year-old when he was slain.
As Texas prepared to execute Buntion, officials in Tennessee canceled the execution of an inmate Thursday in what would have been the state's first execution since the start of the pandemic. Oscar Smith, 72, was scheduled to die for the 1989 killings of his estranged wife and her teenage sons. Republican Gov. Bill Lee granted a temporary reprieve to the oldest inmate on death row for what was called an “oversight" in preparations for the lethal injection. Lee didn't elaborate on what exactly forced the surprise 11th-hour stop to the planned execution. “Due to an oversight in preparation for lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not move forward tonight. I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address Tennessee Department of Correction protocol," Lee said in a statement. “Further details will be released when they are available.” (Read more execution stories.)