By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
The sister of murder trial defendant Sonia Burke, Monique Solomon, testified Wednesday that Mrs. Burke’s husband mistreated her physically and emotionally and that she had advised her sister to get away from Jimmie Burke before he hurt her.
Sonia Burke is on trial for murder in the May 7, 2016 shooting death of her husband at their Bay Street home. Her counsel is pleading self-defense. Day 3 of the trial was to begin at 9 a.m. today.
Three more defense witnesses were to testify this morning. Judge Dwayne Gillis said he anitcipates the trial to be completed by the end of the day today, including a jury verdict.
Solomon, an officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections at a Wayne County prison, told the jury that she had witnessed Jimmie Burke’s conduct at family gatherings and other times when they were together and that she had tremendous concern for her sister’s safety.
“We (sisters) were all in the kitchen laughing and having fun and when he would enter, Sonia’s entire disposition would change,” testified Solomon, who lives in Hinesville. “On her birthday, March 28 (2016), we were all going out to dinner. Just the girls. Then I got a text that he insisted on coming. When she got there her eyes were all red. She had been crying.”
On the day of the shooting, May 7, 2016, the girls had planned to get together and have family photos made. Solomon said she purchased white shirts for everyone to wear with their blue jeans. But Sonia was a no-show.
“When I called her, she didn’t answer. I finally called him to ask where she was. (Then) she called me back and told me she wasn’t coming. I was afraid for her. They had an unhealthy relationship,” said Solomon.
Sonia Burke’s brother, Rudolph Solomon, was introduced as a defense witness, but when he tried to testify about specific things he had learned about the couple’s relationship, the prosecution called for a sidebar that lasted several minutes.
Defense attorney Roy Copeland then asked Solomon if he had witnessed any conduct around his sister that concerned him. Again a sidebar was called.
At that point, Rudolph Solomon was returned to the witness room, Gillis advising him that he may be re-called to the stand at a later time.
The prosecution had started the second day of the trial by putting Waycross Police Detective Larry Hill, who was the lead investigator in the case, on the stand. He was the detective who interviewed Sonia Burke two days after her release from the hospital following treatment for an overdose. Tuesday testimony revealed the defendant shot Jimmie Burke four times, then swallowed two bottles of pills, anxiety medication.
A video was played in court of Hill’s interview. It depicted Hill reading to Burke her Miranda rights and asking her to sign that she understood. He then asked if she would answer questions and she did. She admitted that she and her husband had argued and that the quarrel became intense. She also admitted that she shot him more than once.
Police and EMTs who responded to the scene have testified she was on the phone in the living room when they arrived at the home after the shooting, and that she was taken to the hospital because she had swallowed 120 pills.
Charles Watkins, the ADA prosecuting the case, also called to the stand GBI medical examiner assistant Adrian Lawhorn who identified and discussed autopsy photos, the firearm used and the bullets that were extracted from Jimmie Burke’s body at the crime lab.
Another GBI medical examiner then testified that the bullets that Burke’s body were “very damaging” but that there was no way to say which was the first that hit him or how long he lived after the first bullet struck his body. He said he could have been alive for a few minutes.
The EMTs had testified Tuesday they arrived 16 minutes after Jimmie Burke’s 911 call, which is longer than normal for a response because it took a few minutes for 911 operators to determine the address of the caller who was using a cell phone.
The doctor also testified that there was no gunshot residue surrounding the bullet wounds, which meant that the shooter had to be at least 18 inches away from the victim when the shots were fired.
After the state rested its case, Copeland called on the judge to render a direct verdict on the malice murder charge, saying the prosecution had not proved there was malice aforethought and that there was no premeditation. He said the ADA had not presented sufficient evidence to prove malice murder.
Watkins countered that “she planned. She shot him. Three of the four shots would have killed him — one in his Adam’s apple, one in his jaw, one in his back — malice and premeditation are not the same thing. I ask you to deny his motion and let the jury decide.”
Gillis denied the motion and the trial continued with Copeland putting up character witnesses including Sonia Burke’s co-workers, nurse Lacy Wilcox and nurse Amy Chancey, both of whom testified about her dedication to her patients at Bay View Nursing Home in Nahunta, and Emory “Big O” Marcus, who was friends with Sonia and Jimmie Burke. Marcus said he has known her for years and that she has “real good” character.
“Her and Jimmie come to my house a lot,” said Marcus.
Jesup attorney Tracy Brown testified that Sonia Burke visited him at his office on May 4 and talked about her desire to file for divorce. He said they talked in-depth and that he advised her, based on what she had told him, that she was not safe in the house or the marriage and that she needed to make a change.
“I did not feel it was advantageous for her to stay in the marriage because she feared physical abuse and his threats of abuse. I told her she needed to vacate,” said Brown.