Court officials are aiming for a late June trial in a wrongful death lawsuit against Greg Burroughs, but his attorneys had some special requests when it came to telling the jury how the shooting of his girlfriend Katherine Sinclair occurred in June of 2017.
Attorney Lanny Pace of State Farm — the carrier for Burroughs’ homeowners’ insurance — asked the judge to allow the defense to submit a special instruction to the jury, if it’s necessary, depending on the verdict.
“The plaintiff complaint alleges that (Burroughs) intentionally killed or negligently allowed the gunshot … There’s an exclusion for intentional,” Pace said of the insurance provider’s policy. “Did negligence allow the gun to fire or was it intentionally fired?”
State Farm hired attorneys Ken Adcock and Jay Jacobus to represent Burroughs in the civil case. The defendant was not present in the motion hearing in Jones County Circuit Court in Ellisville on Monday. Seth Thompson and Michael Saltaformaggio of Madison are representing Sinclair’s parents, who filed the wrongful death suit.
All attorneys agree that State Farm should not be mentioned in any of the proceedings, Pace said.
“We don’t want to participate, other than the jury conference,” and in gathering depositions, he said.
Liability insurance is never brought up in civil cases, Adcock said. That’s so jurors don’t take on the mentality that “insurance will cover it,” an attorney who isn’t involved in the case explained.
“State Farm has a potential economic interest if the plaintiff makes a case for intentional or negligence,” Adcock said. “If the plaintiff makes a case for intentional or negligence, we can take up the issue of jury instruction then.”
Williamson said, “There is no doubt the plaintiffs’ lawyers are looking for compensation, and they’d like to collect from the policy of State Farm.”
Williamson agreed that State Farm will not be mentioned “at any point in the trial … assuming we get to that point” or as a party to the case. But the special jury instruction the defense is requesting can’t be done before there’s a jury decision. “If the jury finds for an award without the instruction, I don’t know how to rule after the fact if State Farm has to pay.”
Burroughs’ attorneys were also in court seeking the judge’s assistance in obtaining discovery from the plaintiffs, but some of the information they were looking for has been provided since they filed a motion in September. But they are still seeking a dollar amount for “injuries sustained,” along with “specific evidence” and a “theory of negligence,” along with supporting documents and potential witnesses.
Mack Reeves, standing in for Thompson and Saltaformaggio, said that the plaintiffs will have to rely on evidence and reports gathered by Laurel Police Department officials.
“Miss Sinclair can’t give answers, so they’re going to have to rely on testimony of investigators,” Williamson said.
Williamson granted the defense attorneys’ requests and ordered attorneys for Sinclair to provide them all within 14 days.
Adcock said he needs to know who will testify “so we can crank up depositions” to get ready for the trial. The number of potential witnesses ranges from 14 to 20, he said.
Williamson asked the attorneys to check their schedules and make sure the end of June works for them. The courtroom in Philadelphia also handles chancery court, so the schedules will have to be worked out.
A Franklin County jury found Burroughs not guilty of manslaughter in the criminal trial in September 2018
Sinclair was found in the driver’s seat of her car with a gunshot to her head in the garage of Burroughs’ home in the gated community of Windermere on the night of June 1, 2017. She was naked from the waist down. Burroughs twice called Laurel Municipal Judge Kyle Robertson — his best friend and Sinclair’s uncle — before dialing 911 as she gasped for air in the car. She was pronounced dead at Forrest General Hospital the next day.
Burroughs filed a separate civil suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi against the Laurel Police Department and the City of Laurel. Hattiesburg attorney Daniel Waide claims that his client was the victim of “malicious prosecution, defamation, slander and false imprisonment.”
The city hired attorney Chris McDaniel and Brett Robinson responded to Burroughs’ initial complaint by writing that many of the claims “have no merit” and others are matters for a state court, not a federal court.