Matt Gaetz Honors Accused Killer at Committee Hearing

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

When members of the House Judiciary Committee met for their first meeting of the year last week, the new Republican majority introduced a change in procedure: Before each hearing, everyone in the room would recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The honor of leading the first pledge was given to Corey Beekman, a combat veteran of the US Army National Guard, who traveled to Capitol Hill at the invitation of his congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

“It is my pleasure and distinct honor to present to the committee Staff Sergeant Corey Ryan Beekman, an American hero and one of my members residing in Pensacola, Florida,” Gaetz said. He praised Beekman’s 16 years of military service, his Purple Heart award and his position on the board of a local gun club.

For Gaetz, who sought to spearhead the GOP’s show of patriotism and invite a fight with the DemocratsBeekman was a picture-perfect symbol.

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There was only one thing Gaetz didn’t mention in his glowing introduction: Beekman is an accused murderer who has yet to face his day in court.

In 2019, Beekman allegedly shot dead 33-year-old Billy Buchanan inside a home in rural Mason County, Michigan, and was arrested by police after an extended standoff. He was later charged with murder, but his case is still pending and he moved to Florida.

For Buchanan’s family, the pain of losing Billy has been compounded by the failure of his case to be resolved in court — and made even worse by seeing his alleged killer appear in full military uniform as an honored guest on Capitol Hill.

“It was like getting a dagger stuck in our heart again,” said Denita Buchanan, Billy’s mother.

“We were furious when we first saw it,” Hannah Buchanan, Billy’s niece, told The Daily Beast. “I was disgusted by the whole thing.”

After watching Beekman lead the Pledge of Allegiance, the family quickly reached out to Gaetz’s office — and it became clear that the congressman’s office had not conducted a basic background check on Beekman.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Gaetz apologized to the Buchanan family and said his decision to invite Beekman “caused some unintended consequences.” He acknowledged that he was unaware of the man’s history before inviting him to the convention. “Billy Buchanan’s family brought the situation to my attention and I’m glad they did,” he said.

After hearing from the Buchanans, Gaetz’s office sent them an American flag flying over the Capitol, as well as a signed letter from Gaetz conveying his condolences and apologies for any pain he had caused. Hannah Buchanan told The Daily Beast that the family appreciated the gesture, adding that Gaetz’s chief of staff had called her directly and was very apologetic.

It appears that Beekman was first connected to Gaetz when he contacted his congressman’s office for help. Gaetz explained himself by arguing that when a veteran contacts his staff, “our first thoughts aren’t, ‘let’s run a background check,’ or ‘I wonder if this person had any run-ins with the law that might cause someone to to look bad.'”

Gaetz also claimed that congressional offices “don’t look like the inside of any law enforcement headquarters” and said “we don’t have access to any kind of surveillance technology or databases that would rise to the level of even some of the people you would see in your local police department.”

“We have a team of dedicated young professionals who do not look for and assume the worst in our constituents, especially our veterans,” Gaetz said.

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Gaetz’s professionals, however, presumably have access to the Internet, where there are many articles detailing Buchanan’s killing and the lengthy court cases involving Beekman.

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole told The Daily Beast that “a simple Google search, I thought,” would have given Gaetz the necessary background on Beekman.

“I understand that our federal elected officials are probably being pulled in many different directions, and many of them are not getting good intelligence for a variety of situations that are going on,” Cole said. “Having said that, in this particular case I was disappointed with the decision that was made.”

From the killing in 2019 until now, local press has covered the case closely, and Buchanan’s family has repeatedly spoken out on television and in print media about their fight to secure justice for Billy. A local TV outlet even based a true crime podcast series on Buchanan’s death. The drama between Gaetz and the Buchanan family has been covered in the local press over the past week, including Gaetz’s apology.

In addition to apologizing, a tweet by Gaetz calling Beekman a hero — which included footage of the committee’s work — has been deleted. A YouTube video posted by Gaetz also appears to have been deleted. The full committee meeting remains available on C-SPAN.

Aspects of Gaetz’s introduction of Beekman are particularly egregious given his alleged murder of Buchanan.

The congressman first said that Beekman had “retired” from the military in 2019. In fact, April 2019 is when Beekman allegedly shot Buchanan inside the home when another woman, Kaitlin Buck, and two children were present with them . Surrounded by a SWAT team, Beekman emerged from the home where Buchanan lay dead after an hour and a half break and was immediately arrested. Buck was also injured.

According to local press reports, Beekman was jailed “immediately” after the shooting. He was released in September 2020 when the charges against him were dropped by a prosecutor “without prejudice”, meaning they could be re-filed at a later date and result in a trial against Beekman.

The problem for prosecutors has been that Buck, the only adult witness to the killing, refused to testify. Their efforts to serve her with a subpoena have so far been unsuccessful. Cole, the sheriff, said the former county prosecutor believed he could not prove Beekman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt without her testimony. There is a new prosecutor in office who Cole said has taken an interest in advancing the case.

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For some members of Buchanan’s family, the fact that Gaetz mentioned Beekman’s prominent role in a local Florida gun club was devastating — but more so that he introduced him as a hero when Billy actually died trying to help Buck and her two children, according to the Buchanan family.

The reason Buchanan was at the Mason County home that day in 2019 was to help Buck move. His mother, Denita, told local press in 2021 that a police officer told her that “Billy saved their lives.”

“Billy told them, ‘You stay under the kitchen table until a police officer comes to get you,’ so the detectives said Billy died a hero because he saved two little kids,” Buchanan said.

In his letter to the Buchanans, who arrived with an American flag, Gaetz acknowledged the story. “Billy was a hero,” he said, “and we honor him today with this flag.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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