By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
Waycross Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney Charles Watkins told jurors selected to hear the murder trial of Sonia Burke Tuesday that linking evidence in the case is like putting together a puzzle.
He began his opening statement by telling the jury that the completed puzzle would prove the fatal May 7, 2016 shooting of her husband, Jimmie Burke, was murder.
“The evidence will show that Sonia Burke murdered Jimmie Burke,” Watkins said, expressing confidence that they will find her guilty.
Sonia Burke’s defense attorney, Roy Copeland, of Valdosta, countered in his opening, saying she pulled the trigger in self-defense as he aggressively approached her with a paper weight in hand, threatening her with “Miami style” harm.
“Find her not guilty. This was justification. Self-defense. She had absolutely no choice,” Copeland said.
Watkins presented several witnesses that testified about the day of the shooting including the victim’s sister, Sharon Denise Johnson, three 911 operators, Waycross Firefighter David Humbers, who broke open the bedroom door where Burke’s body was found in the couple’s Bay Street home, WPD Officer Farinda Durham, who testified Sonia Burke had taken 120 pills prior to be taken to the hospital after her husband’s body was found, and Ware EMT Melanie Lockwood.
Ware County Detective (at the time she was with WPD) Missy Thrift testified that Jimmie Burke was shot four times with a .25-caliber handgun and that detectives found four spent casings and a magazine for the gun with seven live rounds in it. She introduced a Lorcin .25-caliber handgun that was used in the shooting and was seized at the Burke home.
At opening, Copeland said the Burkes began married life in 2014 in a “pretty normal” fashion but that Jimmie Burke soon began to make “certain demands” of her. He told the jury that the shooting was self-defense, that Sonia Burke thought he was going to harm her, describing how their arguments about finances and other things changed their relationship.
“She was his primary support,” Copeland said, “had a full job, and they had discussions about money that became intense. He made odd sexual requests and she denied him. They got into serious arguments, there was some pushing, shoving. Then she decided to begin an escape plan. He threatened to ‘do her Miami style.’ She was distraught and went to the doctor who gave her prescriptions to help her with anxiety and to help her sleep.”
Copeland pointed out that Jimmie Burke had been married six times and that he had recently discovered he had prostate cancer.
On the day in question, Copeland said, Sonia Burke and her sisters had arranged to go out to eat and have photos made, but the plan didn’t happen because she awoke about 3 a.m., feeling very bad. Her husband was standing over her when she stirred, he said.
About 11 a.m., Sonia Burke went into the kitchen to get some food and realized her husband was behind her, and that he started screaming, cursing and calling her nasty names, as well as making threats to her, the defense attorney said.
“She got her purse and was ready to leave,” said Copeland, “but he comes toward her with a paper weight, aggressively threatening her ‘Miami style.’ She took her gun out of her purse and shot. He grabbed her leg and she shoots again. He then gets up and calls 911. She thinks he is (still) coming to get her.”
The jury was to return to the courthouse at 9 o’clock this morning to begin the second day of the trial which is anticipated to continue through Thursday.
Prior to the start of Tuesday’s testimonyy, Judge Dwayne Gillis told the prosecution and defense that he had a request from a juror that he be relieved from serving due to a medical problem.
Gillis had the juror brought to the courtroom where he questioned him. The man told the judge that he wanted to serve but that he feared medication would cause him to have to go to the bathroom frequently.
“Does this have anything to do with the trip you had planned to Florida?” Gillis asked.
“No, that trip has been planned for some time,” the juror said. “I’m not trying to get out of this just to go to Florida.”
The judge assured him he would give ample restroom breaks and that if he needed a break before one was called, all he needed to do was raise his hand and a break would be ordered.