Jervarceay Tapley was the only triple-homicide suspect with the motivation to so brutally murder the family with whom he once spent his summers, accompanying them on trips to ballgames and to Disney World, a defense attorney told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday in the murder trial of Rufus Leonard Burks IV.
That motivation: The family of Gloria and Caleb Short had severed ties to him, said Burks’ attorney Jennifer Curry. The Shorts last spent time with him in the summer of 2014, and in the intervening year, his anger and resentment toward them grew.
That’s what provoked the violent rampage in the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home the night of Jan. 3, 2016, when Tapley used a 20-pound dumbbell repeatedly to bludgeon Gloria Short, 54; her son Caleb, 17; and granddaughter Gianna Lindsey, 10, after binding them with tape, Curry said.
“He is so angry that he’s no longer included in this family,” the attorney said, and that’s what drove him to beat them not only with the dumbbell, but also with other items police found shattered on the floor, including a teapot and a lamp. “He used whatever he could in his rage.”
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Curry made this argument while trying to minimize her client’s role, claiming Burks was not inside the home when Tapley killed the three. Burks and another suspect, Raheam Gibson, already had left in one of two vehicles stolen from the Shorts that night.
Prosecutors have alleged Tapley killed the family because they could identify him. Gibson testified last week that the scheme Tapley proposed before the crime was to get the code to the Shorts’ alarm system to facilitate a burglary.
The loot taken included cash, a coin collection, a video game console, video games and Caleb’s clothes, particularly the Nike Air Jordans he collected.
Some rooms were ransacked. A field of debris littered the hallway and living room where Gloria Short and Gianna lay in pools of blood. Caleb was found in a closet off the master bedroom, where his mother’s two purses had been dumped out on the bed. An intruder had gone into the attic, bringing down a bow and arrow set, and leaving the trap door open and its ladder descending to the garage below.
This also was evidence of Tapley’s fury, Curry said: “He wants to take everything from them.”
Tapley has pleaded guilty to three counts of murder. Gibson is to plead after Burks’ trial.
Curry repeatedly referenced Gibson’s testimony while defending Burks.
Gibson said the three that night traveled about 20 miles to the Shorts’ home off McKee Road north of Macon Road after meeting around 6 p.m. at Arbor Pointe off Benning Drive. He and Burks took Burks’ moped, and Tapley followed on a bicycle that eventually broke down, forcing them to take turns on the moped, with two riding ahead before one turned back to retrieve the third.
Around 10 p.m., Tapley called Caleb, and they talked for 17 minutes, Curry said. Later Tapley called again, talking for six minutes. That indicates he was trying not only to reconnect with Caleb, but to find out who was home, she said: “He’s learning. He’s figuring it out.”
They arrived at the Shorts some time after 10:30, as Gloria Short last sent a text from her cell phone at 10:29.
Gibson testified that when they got there, they went into the Shorts’ backyard, where Tapley called Caleb to come to his bedroom window, and then told him to come out the front door, where Tapley pinned him down and Burks helped bind him with duct tape before they took him into the backyard, possibly re-entering through the bedroom window that was left open.
Gibson said he waited outside until Burks called him over and told him it was time to go. That’s when he saw they had loaded the Shorts’ Volkswagen Beetle with Caleb’s clothes, and he and Burks left in that car, with Burks driving.
Tapley went back inside house, Gibson said.
Curry cited Gibson’s testimony that as they got ready to leave, he saw no blood on Burks, who was not sweating nor out of breath, as if he’d been in a struggle. Gibson said Tapley was wearing white Adidas sneakers, which police later confiscated, but found no blood on.
Because Gloria Shorts body lay in a blood-splattered hallway leading to the garage, Burks could not have walked through it without getting blood on his shoes, she said, but the only bloody footprints police found came from Timberland boots, which Tapley wore.
Tapley remained at the Shorts’ home for about 30 minutes after Burks and Gibson left, she said. He did not answer his phone when they called.
When finally he called back, he told them to meet him in Columbus’ Oakland Park neighborhood off South Lumpkin Road, where they found him waiting in the Shorts’ second vehicle, a GMC Envoy.
There they moved the loot into the Envoy and Tapley took it to his Calhoun Drive home, telling the other two to walk. He took the keys to the VW. Police later found both automobiles abandoned in Oakland Park.
Investigators later found blood around the VW driver’s seat. Curry argued Tapley left it there when he returned in the Envoy and checked both vehicles to ensure they’d left nothing behind.
Burks didn’t know the family had been killed until he saw it on the news the next day, she said, and he had no motive to commit such egregious violence, Curry said, noting a medical examiner’s testimony that the victim’s were repeatedly bludgeoned.
“This was anger, rage, repeated action,” she said. But Burks didn’t do it, she said:
“He wasn’t there when they were injured. He wasn’t there when they were killed.”