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Handyman connected to infamous Stonington case released from prison

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Russell E. Kirby, a jack-of-all trades who became entangled with a mysterious death case late in life, has been released from prison after serving 18 years of a 21-year sentence for kidnapping Stonington teacher Leslie Buck in 2002.

Kirby, 82, housed most recently at the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, a medium-security facility in Enfield, was placed on supervised custody Tuesday and granted community supervision, according to a notification from the Department of Correction.

A DOC spokeswoman could not immediately provide information as to where Kirby would be residing, but the "community supervision" notice often indicates that an inmate has been released to a halfway house.

At his most recent trial, in 2010, Kirby was supported by a brother, Stratton Kirby, who lived in California and a niece who lived in southeastern Connecticut. He also may have children in the area, according to his attorney, William T. Koch Jr. 

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Koch said he was interested to hear of Kirby's release and that he hopes for the best for him.  

Kirby was living in Ledyard and working as a handyman when, at age 65, he assaulted Mrs. Buck, a teacher at the Deans Mill elementary school, and kidnapped her from the garage of her 77 Masons Island Road home. She escaped a few hours later.

Two days later, on May 4, 2002, Charles Buck called police and said he had arrived home to find his wife dead at the bottom of the stairs leading to the second floor.

Long suspected of killing his wife because he had become obsessed with a young bartender, Charles Buck was charged with murder seven years after his wife's death. The state alleged that Buck had struck his wife with a homemade club fashioned out of heavy-duty electrical wire, which he dubbed "The Equalizer," causing her to fall down the flight of stairs.

Charles Buck was found not guilty in 2010 after a court trial at which five medical examiners who testified could not agree on the cause and manner of Leslie Buck's death. He died in 2016 of injuries he suffered in a fall at his home.

Kirby, a friend who occasionally did handyman work for Charles Buck, was convicted in 2004 of kidnapping Mrs. Buck and sentenced to 21 years in prison. The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction on appeal, saying Leslie Buck's statements and a recording of the 911 call she made to police should not have been used at the first trial, since Kirby did not have the opportunity to confront his accuser.

He was retried in 2010 and found guilty again, after offering elaborate testimony about the kidnapping but not revealing whether he knew anything about Leslie Buck's death. Kirby said Leslie Buck had "exploded on him" about a $760 check her husband wrote to Kirby from the couple's personal bank account. He said he threw her to the floor, stun-gunned her and bound her after she attacked him with her keys and purse in her garage.

According to testimony from other witnesses, Kirby kidnapped Mrs. Buck and drove her around in her car, but she escaped from him and drove home after he got out to check a "shimmy" in the back of the car. Stonington police Lt. Keith Beebe told the jury that when he confronted Kirby at his home after the kidnapping, Kirby had admitted he carried out the crimes against Leslie Buck "for the money."

Asked to tell the jury about himself at his trial, Kirby said he had moved to the area in 1954. He said he had worked as an auto mechanic, a welder, an inspector at Electric Boat and a master diver.

He was convicted a second time.

Kirby was required to serve 85% of his sentence due to the violent nature of the crime. He had been eligible for parole since March 7, according to records provided by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. The records indicate that he was disciplined twice during his sentence. In November 2006, he refused several orders to move to a new housing unit. In January 2009, correction officers found a sewing needle and a nail, both considered contraband, in his prison cell.

k.florin@theday.com

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