Jury sentences Buffum to 23 years in prison
Almost three hours after retiring to a jury room on Tuesday to begin deliberations, a Victoria County jury sentenced Daulton Jakob Buffum to 23 years in prison for murder.
Buffum, 21, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 20-year-old William Lance Ponton at a house party in the 1500 block of West Beck in August 2010.
He claimed the attack that lead to Ponton's death was in self-defense.
In addition to his prison sentence, Buffum also was assessed a $5,000 fine.
"I respect the jury's verdict as I always will no matter what it is," said Victoria County Assistant District Attorney Eli Garza, who described the case as difficult to prosecute because of Ponton's inability to take the stand. "The victim gets some sort of closure in the sense that justice was served."
Buffum becomes eligible for parole once he has completed at least half of his sentence.
During the sentencing hearing, jurors learned more about the defendant.
Described as a good kid, Buffum grew up in a single-parent household with his siblings.
Looking disheveled, Karen Buffum testified that she and her children's lives were unstable, as they often moved in with relatives while she balanced work, family and studies to attain her bachelor's degree.
Despite an absentee father and minimal family income, the mother said her son flourished in school, even enrolling in his school's Gifted and Talented program.
"He had a heart of gold," said longtime family friend Mary Elizabeth Pendley, who admittedly had not seen Daulton in years.
Daulton eventually was enrolled in anger management classes and failed to graduate from high school.
His mother said she struggled to find the money to bail her son out jail after his arrest.
"I didn't have land. Almost everybody hung up on me," she said.
Ultimately, Karen Buffum said she used $10,000 of her student-loan money to pay her son's bond.
Once her son was out of jail, Karen Buffum said she sought to get him counseling, but being strapped for cash, they decided upon the free option of church.
"He's read the Bible front to back already," Karen Buffum testified.
The Rev. Mark Briggs Jr., a former interim pastor of the church in Choate that Buffum and his family had begun attending, said he got to know all about the defendant and his legal problems before Buffum stopped coming to church because of a conflicting job schedule.
"He told me he knew he was wrong," said Briggs. "I was convinced he did accept Jesus as his savior."
Buffum's aunt Cheryl Krawietz said that upon his release, her nephew struggled to recall the stabbing; however, she discouraged him from digging up the memories.
"I told him it's best that he didn't. Just pray about it, and leave it to God," said Krawietz. "I didn't want him to torture himself more than he would during this."
Krawietz pointedly told jurors the only time she saw her nephew lose control was when he was without his eyeglasses because he was legally blind without them.
Garza tried to tear a hole in the logic of Krawietz's statement by asking whether the defendant had ever stabbed people in his family when his glasses were knocked off of his face, to which Krawietz replied, "No, sir."
During the proceedings, Buffum pushed those same eye glasses on top of his head as he buried his head in his hands and cried as he had done many times throughout the trial.
Additionally, law enforcement witnesses took the stand to testify about the defendant's other run-ins with law including being pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt while operating a motor vehicle as well as an arrest for possession of cocaine.
The charges for that arrest were later dropped.
Jurors learned from Victoria County Sheriff's Department officer Kellye Stillwell that while he was in jail, Buffum had received infractions for hoarding medicine in his cell, not following a written/oral directive when he placed newspaper over a cell lamp and for throwing a tray at an officer because he was mad they made him remove the newspaper from the lamp.
A more detailed description was also given about the stabbing victim, Ponton.
"He loved people, his family, his brothers, most of all," said Ponton's mother, Michelle Brand Martinez.
Martinez, who described Lance as happy and energetic, said her other sons, Michael, Dallas and Dustin, took their brother's death hard.
"It took months for him to stop sleeping with (Lance's) Army jacket," Martinez said about her youngest son, Dallas.
Martinez's testimony revealed Ponton had previous run-ins with the law, including writing a check, for which she testified was in the amount of $68, and for shooting a barn and knocking down a mailbox in Edna when he was 17 years old.
Ponton's mother testified that shortly after committing the crimes, her son worked out a deal with Jackson County District Attorney Bobby Bell that if he completed a successful stint in the military that he would drop the charges.
In a failed attempt to keep up his end of the deal, Ponton enrolled in the Army, but he received a general discharge about a year later, at which time Bell kept up his end of the bargain and re-filed the charges against Ponton.
In June 2009, Ponton was found guilty of forgery of a financial instrument and criminal mischief between $1,500 and $20,000, both of which were felonies, according to a previous Advocate article.
He was sentenced to state jail and was released in April 2010, according to the article.
"I have four reasons to live, and you took one of them," said Martinez as she addressed Daulton Buffum during her victim impact statement. "You didn't bring him in this world, but you sure took him out."
Since her son's death, Martinez said her marriage is on the rocks and has suffered several repossessions because she has become so discombobulated following her son's death.
The grieving mother also voiced her disapproval of the jury's punishment decision.
"It's like they put a price tag on Lance's body," said Martinez, as members of her family co-signed to the statement both verbally and nonverbally. "I will be there at every parole hearing with pictures and with family to make sure you stay in."
Defense attorney Jerry Clark voiced his opinion on the outcome of the case.
"This is not a game where someone won. It's just simply not a game. My heart reaches out to the family," said Clark. "That's what makes our criminal justice system the best, the collective wisdom of 12 jurors, who after hearing all the evidence, determines what justice is."
As of Tuesday evening, Buffum, who made a seemingly reassuring hand gesture to his family members in the court gallery as he exited the courtroom after sentencing, had not filed paperwork for an appeal.
Buffum's family declined to comment on the outcome of the case.