Murdered Houston police officer’s helmet returned to son 33 years later

HOUSTON – The son of a murdered Houston police officer reclaimed a portion of his father’s legacy Wednesday afternoon.

Officer James Irby was killed in the line of duty in June of 1990, and the man who pulled the trigger, Carl Buntion, was executed for the crime in 2022. Irby was assigned to HPD’s motorcycle unit, and his helmet was given to his son, Cody Irby, along with two utility belts.

The helmet is the one Irby wore when he was murdered, and it became a piece of evidence in the case against Buntion.

When Buntion was executed, the head of the Harris County trial exhibits archive felt the helmet needed to be with the officer’s family. Rhonda Spinks, the Criminal Exhibit Clerk at the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, then contacted the district attorney’s office to ask what needed to be done to see the items returned to the family.

The DA’s office then completed the legal process needed to release evidence from the custody of the clerk’s office.

“When he was executed, and I knew I had this, I said ‘I think the family needs this. It doesn’t need to be on my shelf,’” Spinks said to Cody when he arrived at the county archive.

Cody was grateful to receive the item.

“Thank you, I really appreciate it. You don’t know what it means to me,” Cody said. “Getting to feel it and touch it after 33 years, I mean, I’ve talked about this day for my entire life, and I just never thought it would come to pass.”

Cody was 3 years old when his father was killed, and his sister was one. In 1990, James pulled over a car carrying Buntion, a career criminal. Buntion had not reported to his parole officer after being released from prison and mistakenly thought there was a warrant for his arrest. Buntion panicked and shot James without warning; forever robbing two children of the chance to know their father.

“It’s just a piece of him back that I didn’t have before,” Cody said.

James’ murder brought about a reckoning in the criminal justice system - a topic KPRC 2 Investigates explored during our first season of ‘The Evidence Room.’ You can stream the episode on demand here.

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About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”