Burroughs family’s prayer answered

MEADVILLE — Susie Burroughs sat on the front row of the defendant’s side of the small courtroom, palms together, head bowed … and then the jury foreman answered her prayer.

A Franklin County jury found her son Greg Burroughs, 39, not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of 23-year-old girlfriend Katherine Sinclair.

After the verdict was read, the jury was dismissed, then Judge Dal Williamson dismissed the Burroughs along with his family and supporters before allowing others to leave the courtroom. After a short time, he asked deputies who lined the courtroom to check and make sure family members had gotten in their vehicles and left before dismissing Sinclair’s family and supporters.

“I recognize that this has been very divisive for the City of Laurel and Jones County,” Burroughs’ attorney Tracy Klein said. “I hope that everybody can move forward.”

District Attorney Tony Buckley and his staff spent hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to prosecute Burroughs. The jury spent about an hour deliberating after lunch Tuesday before returning the verdict. They heard closing arguments of almost an hour from Buckley and Klein, and before that, they heard from 15 witnesses — 13 for the state, two for the defense — over six days of testimony.

For all the boxes of files, enlarged photos, timelines and testimony, it all boiled down to one simple question: Did Sinclair shoot herself in the head or did Burroughs fire the fatal shot in his garage on the night of June 1, 2017?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing the jurors based their decision on, Klein said, but in the end, they didn’t believe there was enough proof to prosecute his client.

“The system is set up to serve justice,” he said. “Now, I realize some people may feel like justice wasn’t served … at the same time, you have to let the system work.”

The case needed to be tried, Buckley said, and he and his staff tried hard to prove what they believed happened in the garage of Burroughs’ home that night. But, as Buckley said all along, it was a circumstantial case, so the jury’s decision came down to a matter of law.

“The No. 1 reason that we lost is because the burden of proof in a circumstantial case is not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s far higher,” he said, then cited the law: “The evidence must be so strong as to exclude every other reasonable hypothesis other than that of guilt, and if there are two interpretations, the juror must resolve doubt in favor of the accused …

“That mountain was incredibly hard to get to the top and over, but we tried.”

Klein’s 50-minute closing argument punched holes in police officers’ testimony and investigation, painting the Laurel Police Department as overzealous in its attempt to charge Burroughs in the death of Sinclair.

“They didn’t try to confirm suicide, they tried to create a murder,” Klein said in his closing argument. He told jurors that his client was “set up to look deceptive” during an interview with Investigator Michael Reaves a few hours after the shooting.

“The evidence that was collected and then processed — or not processed or tested — indicated that they felt like they believed there was sufficient evidence without testing. Clearly, we disagreed with that,“ Klein said after the trial. “If you have a weapon, and two different people may have touched it, then clearly you want to test it to determine who touched it, not just theory, assumption and speculation.”

Buckley challenged jurors to use their “good country common sense” when they began deliberating. He said Burroughs “is not credible, not believable.” He asked the jurors to use common sense to decide if Sinclair was about to go riding and drinking “naked from the waist down,” as she was discovered in the driver’s seat of her Honda. “Have you ever heard of anyone going on a country loop half-naked?”

Buckley also referred to police body-cam video that showed Burroughs immediately after the shooting.

“Most of us would be more freaked out if a complete stranger shot herself in our garage,” he said.

Buckley concluded with his theory of what happened that night in the gated, affluent community just outside of Laurel, just after they returned there from dinner and drinks at The Loft.

“He gets home, he wants the sex he’s been promised, and things go south,” Buckley said. “She gets upset, leaves house half-naked, but he doesn’t want her leaving …”

Buckley points out that one of Sinclair’s last acts was to try to Google search Burroughs’ ex-wife, after Sinclair had threatened to send her embarrassing photos/videos in an effort to damage his chances in an ongoing child-custody battle.

A fight ensues, then “he shoots her, then makes sure the gun is found in her hand.”

Burroughs then took the phone, Buckley said, to see what she was able to send off.

“That’s what this was all about,” he said. “It wasn’t about Katherine being depressed or suicidal. The pieces of the puzzle are there.”

A total of 60 exhibits were introduced into evidence, along with the testimony of 15 people, including conflicting expert testimony about the shooting. Dr. Lisa Funte, who did the autopsy for the state crime lab, testified that the gun was fired from a distance of more than a few inches. Dr. John Hunsaker, a former state medical examiner in Kentucky, testified that the fatal shot was a “contact wound” and ruled the manner of death as a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Klein, who was a former prosecutor for Forrest County, said it was the most complex case he’s ever handled.

“I’ve done a number of complicated cases, and this one, by far … ranks at the highest of the most complicated, with the most exhibits and photographs,” he said.

Buckley said from the beginning and in his closing that it was a lot for a jury to digest in just a few days after he and his office have been gathering facts to prepare for the case for almost a year.

He thanked his staff for all of their work and preparation.

“We spent hundreds of hours,” he said. “Of course we’re gutted because of all the work we’ve poured our heart and soul into (but) as a professional prosecutor and former defense lawyer, I will always respect the verdict of a jury. I’m not going to point fingers.”

The most common complaint from Sinclair’s supporters was that her past behavior and mental health — an “intentional overdose” of 10 Advil when she was 16, threats of cutting her wrist, an appointment she made with Pine Grove Behavioral Health — were heard by the jury, but nothing from Burroughs or his past. He has had charges or complaints of domestic violence from at least two other girlfriends in the past, but in each case, the charges were either dismissed or the records disappeared.

“People don’t understand the rules of evidence,” Buckley said. “You can’t use prior bad acts. You have to play by the rules of the game. There’s an old saying: ‘The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is inadmissible.’”

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