Austin Burke, 19, was found guilty on all counts in the June 12 aggravated robbery and aggravated murder of Brandon Sample, 22, of Warren, and the June 20 aggravated robbery of the Cortland Pizza Joe’s restaurant.
Burke, of Bristolville, also was convicted of tampering with evidence and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Burke was not allowed to possess a firearm because he was convicted as a juvenile of an aggravated robbery in Girard.
The Trumbull County coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, ruled Sample’s death a homicide as a result of a gunshot wound to the head, but no bullet was recovered. Nor was there any DNA or ballistic evidence linking Burke to the crime.
Witness Diedere Keener testified that Burke arrived at a house on Mason Street in Niles about 3 or 4 a.m. June 12 and said told her he was “going to rob someone for heroin.” She said a male who she later identified as Sample, was in a white car close by.
Burke’s cell phone records showed that Burke’s phone was in Niles at 2:08 a.m. June 12, then “at 3:46 a.m. his phone starts to move through Warren, and eventually near Hatchet Man Road, where the body was found,” Assistant Prosecutor Chris Becker said of evidence presented at the trial.
The last message anyone got from Sample’s phone was at 4:40 a.m. when he told his father he was on his way home, according to testimony.
Becker asked jurors to use their “reason and common sense” in finding Burke guity by considering the text messages between Burke and Sample that Burke deleted. Also that Burke told a detective he was home June 12, the day Brandon Sample was killed, despite phone records to the contrary. Burke also gave a false name the night he was arrested shortly after the Cortland pizza-shop robbery, Becker said.
Word has come from the Trumbull County courthouse that a verdict is expected soon in the Austin Burke aggravated murder trial. Watch Vindy.com for the latest.
Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor, asked jurors in the Austin Burke aggravated murder trial to use their "reason and common sense" about why Austin Burke deleted texts between himself and Brandon Sample; apparently lied about where he was June 12, the day Brandon Sample was killed; and gave a false name the night he's accused of robbing a Cortland pizza shop.
Bradley Olson Jr., one of Burke's attorneys, said during closing arguments today that the teens who testified that Burke told them he killed Sample were "completely inconsistent," and Olson suggested shoddy work by a police detective and the county coroner and said an investigator ignored another young man who should have been investigated in Sample's murder.
Jurors were going to get jury instructions before lunch today and then begin deliberations in the case.
Burke, 19, of Bristolville, is charged with the June 12 aggravated robbery and aggravated murder of Brandon Sample, 22, of Warren, and the aggravated robbery of the Pizza Joe's restaurant in Cortland. If Sample is convicted, he could get a life prison sentence.
Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, was the last witness of the Austin Burke aggravated murder trial late Thursday, and Burke's attorneys did not call any witnesses.
Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. today.
Burke, 19, of Miller South Road in Bristolville, is charged with the June 12 aggravated murder and aggravated robbery of Brandon Sample, 22, of Warren, and the June 20 aggravated robbery of the Pizza Joe's restaurant in Cortland.
If earlier parts of the trial are any indication, the attorneys will have their hands full trying to make sense of numerous and contradictory witness statements from about 10 teens and young adults. About 10 police officers and forensics experts and others also testified starting Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
The case has been unusual in its lack of physical evidence pointing to Burke as the killer, but it has also been unusual in the number of witnesses who claim Burke told them he killed Sample and told them the location where he did it — on Hatchet Man Road in the Grand River wildlife area off of Peck-Leach Road in Bristol Township not far from Burke's home.
While having to fend off attacks on the credibility of the teen witnesses, prosecutors have continued to stress that one piece of evidence pointing to Burke as the killer is that the stories a detective got from Burke's friends led him directly to the decomposed body of Brandon Sample June 15.