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Former Marine agrees to 15-year sentence after jury deadlocks in deputy shooting

Matthew Buendia had earlier rejected a plea deal.
Matthew Buendia had earlier rejected a plea deal.
Published Oct. 10, 2015

TAMPA — After seven hours of deliberations Friday, a deadlocked jury could not reach a verdict in the trial of Matthew Buendia, the Iraq War veteran who shot a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy in 2011.

So both sides struck a deal: Buendia agreed to spend 15 years in prison and spend the rest of his life on probation. But with credit for time served and good behavior behind bars, he could be freed from prison after just 10 years.

Buendia pleaded guilty to charges that included attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer. By doing so, he avoided a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He cried when addressing the court and apologized to Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux.

"I would never want this to happen to anybody," he told the court.

De Veaux, who was shot three times, told the court she had forgiven Buendia.

"Believe it or not, I am praying for you," she said, "and I believe both our lives were spared that night because of God."

Two weeks earlier, on the opening day of his trial, Buendia rejected the same 15-year offer. He did so despite a strong warning from the judge, who advised that juries rarely accept the insanity defense.

After five hours, the jury revealed it had reached an impasse when it sent a note to the judge: "If it is clear no one will change their opinion based on evidence, when do we choose to quit?"

Prosecutors and defense attorneys then huddled outside the courtroom to discuss a plea deal.

Buendia, 28, a former Marine, served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before he was honorably discharged in 2009. During the trial, his defense argued Buendia shot the deputy while in a dissociative state caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.

They asked the jury to find Buendia not guilty by reason of insanity, a sentence that would have likely consigned him to a state mental hospital.

"He had absolutely no idea what he was doing when he fired that weapon," said Buendia attorney Mark O'Brien. "He's not angry, he's not a drunk. He's sick."

During closing arguments Friday, prosecutors presented a different theory of the case. They argued that on Sept. 30, 2011, when the deputy drove into Buendia's apartment complex, he shot her to avoid being arrested for hitting his girlfriend and possessing marijuana.

The 911 call that summoned De Veaux was made by Jessica Gipson, Buendia's then-girlfriend. The pair had been drinking with Buendia's co-workers when he began acting erratically. When Gipson mentioned that she was thinking of leaving him, he swallowed a fistful of pills and announced, "It doesn't matter anymore."

Minutes later, Gipson said, Buendia attacked her, picking her up by her throat and slamming her to the ground. He hit her repeatedly, she testified. He then returned to the apartment to get his gun, prosecutors said.

According to De Veaux, Buendia approached her with his gun tucked into his waistband and a glazed look in his eyes. "Ma'am," he addressed her, "I don't really understand. I'm just looking for my dog."

De Veaux asked to talk to him in his apartment, but instead of responding, Buendia raised his shirt, grabbed the gun and fired nine shots. Three of them hit De Veaux in her left shoulder and leg.

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