TAMPA — Matthew Buendia was a trained U.S. Marine Corps sniper. If he had wanted to kill the Hillsborough sheriff's deputy he shot at, he could have, his ex-girlfriend recently testified.
Jessica Gipson figured he was trying to commit suicide. She says that just before Buendia fired more than a dozen times at Hillsborough Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux on Sept. 30, 2011, he swallowed a handful of pills.
Gipson saw Buendia draw his gun and fire at close-range. Maybe the 24-year-old man wanted the deputy to shoot back, she thought.
"At this point, I don't know what his intentions were," Gipson testified three weeks ago.
Gipson's recent testimony provides new details about the troubled ex-Marine, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and at one point was taking 17 pills a day prescribed by U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs doctors.
This is the defense's approach as they head toward trial in March. No one is denying Buendia fired the shots. But Tampa defense attorney Mark O'Brien is arguing the young man served his country and came back from three Middle East deployments broken.
Without warning, he would become mean and aggressive, Gipson testified. Sometimes his face would change, as he'd fly into "one of these moods," she said.
Buendia was frustrated with the VA doctors, who he thought were not communicating with one another. He self-medicated with marijuana, Gipson said, which helped him eat and sleep.
He carried a seat belt cutter in his car — a response to seeing some friends burned alive in a vehicle while deployed abroad.
Buendia was also very controlling, Gipson said. He would accuse her of cheating on him when she would leave his side, even just to get the mail. He became violent twice.
That's why the deputy arrived that Friday night in 2011.
On the way back from a night out at Carrollwood bar Whiskey North, Gipson said Buendia began to beat her. She called 911 and tried to stop Buendia from downing the handful of pills.
Then Gipson met De Veaux near the front of their Town 'N Country apartment complex.
Soon after, Buendia approached, and the deputy told him to step back, Gipson testified. That's when Buendia started firing.
Three bullets hit De Veaux in her upper leg, lower leg and shoulder. A month after the shooting, she told reporters she had left her life in God's hands and didn't hold a grudge.
Buendia has a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday. It will be the first time the defense will ask a judge to release him on bail.
Shortly after the shooting, O'Brien told the judge that Buendia's family wanted the young man to stay in jail. He's mentally ill and a danger to himself and others, O'Brien said at the time.
At about the same time, Gipson broke up with Buendia and stopped cooperating with the defense's investigation. She said a federal agent had informed her that Buendia was communicating with an ex-girlfriend from jail. She declined to give more details.
This past October, a judge ruled that Gipson had to divulge the agent's name if asked during a deposition. She and several attorneys convened on Nov. 15. That's when Gipson shared details of Buendia's erratic behavior and apparent mental anguish.
She also named the "agent" as Anson Shaw. He had been a friend of hers for about a decade. She said she never found out who he worked for or why he shared that information. It's unclear if it's even true — or if someone was trying to tamper with an important defense witness.
Records show one person by the name of Anson Shaw in the state of Florida. He at one point lived in Sarasota, the city where Gipson met him while bartending.
Several federal law enforcement agencies say they've never employed anyone by that name, though the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office did for one month in 2001. They fired him after completing a background check.
Attempts to reach Shaw were unsuccessful.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.