Veteran Army Ranger convicted in rape trial on the loose
By JOSH KEGLEY | Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader | Published: July 14, 2012
A man who fled Fayette Circuit Court just before a jury found him guilty of rape and sodomy Thursday is a decorated Army veteran who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to court records.
As of Friday evening, authorities continued searching for John C. Buckley IV, who was last seen by authorities about 3 p.m. Thursday. Buckley, 29, was out of jail on bond during the trial, meaning he was not directly supervised by police, corrections officers or sheriff's deputies.
As a condition of his release, Buckley had been ordered to wear an ankle monitor that tracked his location. However, he apparently cut it off and left it in the street, authorities said.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Todd Bradbury said Thursday that U.S. marshals have joined police in the hunt for Buckley. Bradbury said Buckley has family in Colorado, "Army buddies" all over the United States and possible connections in Mexico.
He said Buckley probably hatched a plan to flee if he thought the trial was not going in his favor, and he might have had help in his escape.
Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said police consider Buckley dangerous; Bradbury said he could be armed.
Buckley's training as an Army Ranger "gives him the ability to engage in defensive and combative tactics at a very high level," Roberts said. "As such, we do not want citizens to independently approach him or try to take him into custody. If you see him, call 911 immediately."
When Buckley was arrested, Bradbury said, police confiscated multiple weapons, including a handgun, an assault rifle and a shotgun. Buckley also had body armor and a stockpile of ammunition, he said.
Court documents say Buckley suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Court documents say Buckley kept a scrapbook with photos of the people he had killed "over there" and showed them to friends.
According to a motion filed by prosecutors last month, Buckley often bragged about his military training and told about fights he had won. In one fight, he beat a roommate with a baseball bat. In another, he broke a man's nose outside of Lynaugh's pub, the document said.
Because of his violent past, authorities were concerned Buckley might try to harm victims, detectives and prosecutors who were involved in his case.
"He blames the police department for his criminal acts; he blames the commonwealth's attorneys office," Bradbury said. "He blames everyone but himself."
The jury was out
Buckley's trial this week stemmed from charges following an incident May 29, 2010, in which Buckley raped an ex-girlfriend. The Herald-Leader does not typically identify victims of sexual abuse.
According to court documents, Buckley became angry at the woman because she slept with another man about a week after she broke up with Buckley. He sent her a text message, telling her to come to his apartment, and he threatened to post nude pictures of her online if she refused, according to a warrant filed in Fayette Circuit Court.
When the ex-girlfriend arrived, Buckley told her to take off her clothes and perform oral sex on him, the warrant said. The warrant said he then bit and choked the woman while he sexually assaulted her. He recorded the act on a digital camera, according to the document.
The woman told authorities she complied because she was afraid of Buckley. She said "she was crying the whole time he was recording," the warrant said.
"She had seen Mr. Buckley assault persons in the past when he was angry and ... Mr. Buckley had several guns in the home," the warrant said.
The woman went straight to police. Buckley was arrested the following day, according to police reports.
Investigators found the video after searching Buckley's apartment at 148 East Fourth Street. Bradbury said jurors saw the recording this week during the trial.
Buckley's attorney, Andrew Stephens, said he told the jury the videotaped encounter between Buckley and the woman was consensual and similar to other sexual encounters between them. He said Buckley's PTSD was not used as a defense at trial.
As jurors went into closed deliberations about 3 p.m. Thursday, the last day of the three-day trial, Buckley, his family and attorneys left the courthouse, Stephens said.
Stephens said he went back to his office during the break. Buckley's father, John C. Buckley III, a Colorado defense attorney, stopped by his office briefly, he said.
A little after 4 p.m., Clark called Stephens and said the jury had returned a verdict. Stephens went back to the courthouse and noticed Buckley wasn't there.
He tried calling his client, but his calls went unanswered. Clark then called the Community Alternative Program, which monitors inmates on pretrial release. Officials told the judge Buckley was in the process of removing the ankle monitor.
"It became apparent that he was not coming back to court," Stephens said.
Officers began searching for Buckley; they found the monitor in the street near Georgetown and Spurr roads — not far from where Buckley had been staying at Denburn Court.
Meanwhile, Buckley's trial continued. The jury read its verdict: Buckley was guilty of two counts of first-degree sodomy, one count of first-degree rape, one count of fourth-degree assault and one count of unlawful imprisonment.
The jury proceeded with sentencing and later recommended a term of 20 years. About 5 p.m., authorities notified the media of Buckley's escape.
'I am not a criminal'
Buckley has been in and out of jail since 2010 for the rape case and other charges, according to court documents. Each time, he has vocally contested his incarceration and denied any wrongdoing.
"I am not a criminal, and when I finally get my day in court, months from now, my family and my fellow citizens will witness my vindication," he wrote in a letter to supporters.
The letter was filed with a packet of about 10 letters written by family and friends on Buckley's behalf during his most recent monthslong stint in jail.
His supporters noted that Buckley suffered from PTSD, but said he was a kind and dedicated man who maintained a 4.0 grade-point average at the University of Kentucky and advocated for veterans returning from war.
"He is a law-abiding, productive man, a national hero who deserves our respect and gratitude," wrote his mother, Sandra Merritt.
Buckley and others said in the letters that his problems with law enforcement began in 2009, when he drew a gun on an off-duty Lexington police officer in self-defense.
The conflict started when the officer stepped into the street in front of Buckley's car and Buckley had to stop to avoid hitting him, according to a letter Buckley wrote.
The conflict escalated; Buckley pulled out a gun and forced the man to his knees. He did not know the man was an off-duty officer, the letter said.
Charges in that case were dropped by a grand jury. Buckley's letter says police and prosecutors have had it out for him ever since.
"I have been in jail for 110 days because I embarrassed a detective two years ago," he wrote.
Buckley said he had received a Purple Heart and a Medal of Valor for his actions in the Army. He said police were "scared" of him because of "what I had to do in that desert."
"My capabilities and experiences are beyond their understanding, thus they lock me in here for as long as they can," the letter said.
Supporters created a Facebook page for Buckley and an online petition trying to get him out of jail. He previously had been released on bond but had returned to jail when new charges were filed against him or when he violated the terms of his bond.
Bradbury is the prosecutor in a similar case against Buckley involving another woman, which is pending in Fayette Circuit Court.
"The victim has alleged that he raped her at gunpoint," Bradbury said.
That woman has since recanted, according to court documents, but prosecutors are continuing with the case based on evidence and testimony she had given to a grand jury, Bradbury said.
Buckley also has a misdemeanor case pending in Fayette District Court. According to court documents, he allegedly conspired with two men to intimidate a witness in a drug case by shooting into the house of the witness's mother.
When Buckley is caught, he probably will face other charges, Bradbury said.
"He'll have the bail jumping, which is another felony, tampering with an electronic monitoring device for cutting the monitor off," Bradbury said.
Stephens said that he had not heard from Buckley since his escape and that he doubted Buckley would contact him.
"I would dearly love to talk to him," Stephens said. "If he would turn himself in, I would mediate the surrender."
Distributed by MCT Information Services