LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The trial of wealthy Democratic donor Ed Buck, who is charged in connection with the overdose deaths of two men at his West Hollywood apartment, got underway Tuesday.
Nearly two years after he was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors, Buck is going on trial for providing the fatal doses to those two men, running a drug den and persuading others to travel for prostitution.
The 66-year-old has pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges that could put him in prison for life if he's convicted.
The arrest of Buck in 2019 marked a turning point for activists who rallied outside his West Hollywood apartment and pressured law enforcement to act after Gemmel Moore, 26, died on his floor in 2017. Even after Timothy Dean, 55, died 18 months later, it took another nine months and the near-death of another overdose victim before Buck was finally arrested in September 2019.
Family members of Moore and Dean spoke ahead of Tuesday's proceedings, which mostly consisted of the jury selection. Once that process is complete, the trial is expected to last 10 days.
"I'm so happy for this day to have finally come. It's a bittersweet day but it's also a good day because we're here for justice. Not just for Timothy Dean, but for Gemmel as well," said Joyce Jackson, Dean's sister.
Jasmyne Cannick, a political strategist who has helped lead the charge to bring Buck to justice, and others had previously said that Buck escaped prosecution because of wealth, political ties and race.
"Just getting to trial is a victory," Cannick said Monday, noting that Buck had already spent nearly two years in jail awaiting his day in court. "Who knows who could have died in that time."
Buck, a wealthy white man who was active in gay and animal rights issues, exploited vulnerable men - most of them Black - paying them to come to his home to use drugs and engage in sex play, prosecutors said. Many were destitute drug users who often worked as prostitutes to support their habit.
"Buck's preference was to personally inject victims, and he pressured or incentivized victims to let him do so, sometimes offering large cash bonuses to coerce a victim to agree to an injection or additional injections," prosecutors said in court papers. "Other times, Buck simply injected victims while they were unconscious."
Prosecutors claim Buck provided fatal doses of methamphetamine to Moore and Dean.
The defense contends all the men were at Buck's apartment under their own will and Moore and Dean did not die from methamphetamine.
"Many of them appeared to be drug addicts by their own admission," said defense lawyer Ludlow B. Creary II. "They were living according to their lifestyle, and Ed Buck did not create their lifestyle."
Neighbors are expected to testify to a constant flow of men coming and going from Buck's apartment that only ebbed after the deaths before eventually picking back up. One neighbor reported to investigators that Buck told him he was a social worker helping the men.
Several men are expected to testify about Buck's "compulsion to pump drugs into others regardless of the consequences," prosecutors said.
Some told investigators they believe Buck gave them the powerful sedative known as the date-rape drug, which left them unconscious.
One man, who said he was paid $300 as an escort, said Buck gave him what he said was meth, but it immobilized him on the floor for more than six hours. Buck told the man to leave, but he couldn't move. When Buck approached him with a buzzing power saw, the man said a surge of adrenaline drove him to get to his feet and escape.
Although Dean died in January 2019, it wasn't until September of that year that Buck was arrested after a man overdosed twice in one week.
That alleged victim, Dane Brown, told investigators he had been living in a hotel on Skid Row when he met Buck on Adam4Adam, a gay dating and escort site. He moved in with Buck for part of the summer of 2019 and said Buck injected him with meth on nearly a daily basis for five weeks, according to court documents.
The second time Brown overdosed, he asked Buck to call an ambulance. When Buck refused, Brown said he left the apartment and called 911 from a nearby gas station and was taken to a hospital.
Prosecutors said Brown was lucky to survive. He is expected to testify at trial, providing a first-hand account that neither Moore nor Dean lived to tell.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.