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Modesto man guilty of woman's murder 35 years ago

The Modesto Bee,
BYLINE: Rosalio Ahumada,
Link to Article

Modesto, CA

2011-08-10_Modesto man guilty of woman039;s murder 35 years ago_01
After less than 90 minutes of deliberation, a jury on Wednesday afternoon convicted Buddy Ray Gary, 60, of murder in the death of an 81-year-old woman beaten and raped inside her west Modesto home 35 years ago. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Florence Millard. (Stanilaus County Jail)

After less than 90 minutes of deliberation, a jury on Wednesday afternoon convicted a Modesto man of murder in the death of an 81-year-old woman beaten and raped inside her west Modesto home 35 years ago.

Buddy Ray Gary, 60, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Florence Millard. He was arrested in early 2009 after a state Department of Justice criminalist found semen in a rug from Millard's home that matched a DNA sample from Gary.

The jury of seven women and five men began deliberating about 2:40 p.m. Wednesday and returned with a verdict about 4 p.m. Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland scheduled Gary to return to court Sept. 15 for his sentencing hearing.

"It's a great day for Florence Millard, for victims and for science," said Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced. "We should never give up on cases."

The 32-year-old slaying investigation is the county's oldest cold case that has resulted in the arrest of a suspect, according to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office.

Bernard Fairfield, Gary's defense attorney, declined to comment about the verdict.

Dorothy Winke, 75, of Modesto, who testified in the trial, said Millard was like a grandmother to her. Her father worked with Millard, who remained a close friend after she retired.

Winke was 40 when Millard was attacked, and news of the verdict finally put her mind at ease.

"I've been waiting almost half my life for this," Winke said about the verdict. "This has been something in my prayers for a long time."

On Aug. 30, 1976, Millard was found on the rug in her home nude, her hands bound, beaten and raped by an intruder. Millard died from her injuries 12 days later.

"(Gary) brutally assaulted her, he raped her, he left her for dead," Rees said in her closing argument Wednesday before the jury deliberated.

Fairfield told the jury the 35-year-old murder case has too many missing details, mainly because the information and the people involved aren't around anymore.

He said it's not known how severe Millard's medical conditions were and whether they were a factor in her death. He informed the jury there were discrepancies in testimony about her injuries.

"Things are missing," Fairfield said in his closing argument. "What you don't know may be just as important as what you do know."

Victim was a widow with very poor vision

Millard lived alone in a home in the 600 block of Third Street across from Fourth Street Park, which is now César Chávez Park. Her husband, James B. Millard, had already died.

A neighbor testified that Millard could get around on her own, but she could barely see. He said she liked to have her door open and her screen door locked to stay cool in the summer.

Authorities have said Millard was alone when the intruder tore open the screen door and entered her home late at night.

When the neighbor found her the next morning, he testified that Millard's head was so swollen the elderly woman's wrinkles weren't visible.

Rees told the jury Millard's injuries included eight broken ribs, bruises on all sides of her head, a facial fracture, a concussion and internal head bleeding. She said investigators found blood splattered on the walls on both sides of the home's hallway, where Millard was found.

"He beat Ms. Millard severely," Rees told the jury. "Thirty-five years have passed since this crime, but we will not forget what happened to Ms. Millard."

Pathologist's testimony cannot be verified

Fairfield called into question a pool of blood found on the wall, because the blood hadn't run down the wall.

He also said the pathologist who testified based his opinion on information that can't be verified with the people who treated Millard at the hospital and conducted her autopsy at the morgue because they're not around.

"Unfortunately, we can't speculate what these answers would be," Fairfield told the jury.

He ended his closing argument by telling the jury there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Gary is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.

When he was arrested in Millard's case, Gary had been convicted of rape twice before and was serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for felony assault, authorities have said.

Despite his criminal history and the nature of Millard's slaying, the prosecution couldn't seek the death penalty or a sentence of life without parole. The state law at the time deemed such penalties unconstitutional.

The maximum penalty for first-degree murder in 1976 was seven years to life in prison, so that's what Gary is facing next month.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or (209) 578-2394.

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