After deliberating about seven hours, the jury in the triple-murder trial of Rufus Leonard Burks IV had yet to reach a verdict Wednesday.
The jury of eight men and four women sent several questions to the court Tuesday and Wednesday, seeking advice on how to determine Burks’ guilt on some of the 10 charges against him.
Jurors also wanted a fan to alleviate the stifling heat in Judge Gil McBride’s court on the Government Center’s 11th floor: “Can a fan be available tomorrow? It is hot,” read a note they sent Tuesday afternoon.
They retired to the jury room to start their deliberations about 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, but asked to be released for the day about 90 minutes later. They returned at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and recessed for the day at 5 p.m.
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Burks is on trial for the brutal Jan. 4, 2016, homicides of Gloria Short, 54; her son Caleb Short, 17; and granddaughter Gianna Lindsey, 10; who were bound and beaten to death in the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home.
The charges against him are three counts of malice or intentional murder; three counts of felony murder for allegedly killing the three victims while committing the felony of aggravated assault; two counts of auto theft; and one count each of kidnapping and first-degree burglary.
One of the jury’s questions was how authorities determined the value of the stolen vehicles. Prosecutors in closing arguments noted each was worth more than $5,000, that value being the threshold between a felony theft charge and a misdemeanor.
They also wanted to know whether police had any surveillance video of Burks and codefendants Jervarceay Tapley and Raheam Gibson in the stolen automobiles, a GMC Envoy and a Volkswagen Beetle. Gibson, who testified for the prosecution, said he and Burks left the Shorts’ home in the Beetle and Tapley left later in the Envoy.
Jurors also asked whether Burks could be found guilty of stealing the Envoy through “knowledge after the fact.” Prosecutors allege he is guilty of the Envoy’s theft as a party to the crime, meaning he participated regardless of whether he took the vehicle himself.
And they asked whether Burks’ felony murder charge was based strictly on killing people while committing the felony of aggravated assault, or could it refer to any felony. McBride instructed them that it was based only on the assault counts.
Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, the jury had prosecutors replay surveillance videos that authorities say show the three suspects traveling up Illges Road and passing the Columbus City Services Center off Macon Road, with two riding a moped and one following on a bicycle.
Investigators said Burks and Gibson were on the motorized bike and Tapley was pedaling the bicycle behind them.
When deliberations began, it became clear which of the 15 jurors were the 12 to decide Burks’ fate and which were alternates available to substitute should any among the 12 be unable to continue. The demographics of the 12 are four black men, four white men, two black women and two white women.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Burks’ attorney Jennifer Curry claimed Burks had no motive to murder the family so violently, but Tapley did.
Only Tapley, the suspect who knew the slain family, had the motivation to bludgeon them while ransacking their Bentley Drive home, Curry said.
The prosecution countered that one suspect acting alone could not have bound all three victims with tape, beaten them repeatedly with a 20-pound dumbbell in two different parts of the house, ransacked the home and stolen two vehicles.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker said Tapley was alone with the victims for only about 20 minutes after Burks and Gibson left in the VW, and could not have run from room to room beating people and destroying furnishings so quickly.
“You’re not going to be like the Energizer Bunny running from one person to another with a 20-pound weight,” he said, later adding, “I’m going to tell you, it takes two to make this nightmare come true.”
Tapley is not on trial because he has pleaded guilty to three counts of murder. Gibson has agreed to plead guilty, but hasn’t yet. They are to be sentenced March 23, attorneys said.
It was Tapley, then 16, who had the motive to kill the family in a rage, said Curry: He once spent his summers with the Shorts, accompanying them on trips to ballgames and to Disney World. He was connected to the Shorts through Gloria Short’s brother, Robert Averett, his grandmother’s boyfriend, because he lived with the couple.
The Shorts treated Tapley as though he was Caleb’s cousin. Tapley last spent time with the Shorts in the summer of 2014, and the family afterward severed ties to him, Curry said.
After that, his anger and resentment toward them grew, the attorney said: “He’s so angry that he’s no longer included in this family.”
That’s what provoked the violent rampage in the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home the night of Jan. 3, 2016, when Tapley repeatedly bludgeoned the three victims, Curry said.
“This was anger, rage, repeated action,” the attorney said. Tapley beat them not only with a 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,” Curry said.
She tried to minimize her client’s role, claiming Burks was not inside the home when Tapley killed the three.
Whitaker disputed this argument: The Shorts had not cut ties to Tapley, he said. Tapley had not joined them on any excursions in 2015 because he moved to Alabama, before returning to Columbus to live with his grandmother and her boyfriend.
Citing Gibson’s testimony that Gibson waited outside the Shorts’ home after Tapley and Burks went inside, Whitaker argued Burks must have joined in the killing spree, because Tapley could not have bound the victims in two different rooms, repeatedly bludgeoned them and wrecked the house on his own in so short a time.
Gloria Short was found dead in a central hallway, and Gianna lay nearby in the living room. Caleb was found in a closet off the master bedroom.
“He’d have had to be like the Tasmanian devil,” Whitaker said, referring to the whirling Warner Bros. cartoon character who leaves destruction in his wake.
Curry cited Gibson’s testimony that Burks that night wore white Adidas sneakers, and Gibson saw no blood on Burks when he and Burks left in the Shorts’ silver Volkswagen. Burks was neither sweating nor short of breath, like he’d been involved in a struggle, Gibson testified.
After Gibson waited outside the home, Burks came out and called him into the Shorts’ garage, where the VW had been loaded with loot such as Caleb’s clothes, particularly the Nike Air Jordans he collected.
Because Gloria Short was found in a pool of blood in the hallway leading to the garage, Burks could not have helped Tapley move the stolen goods to the Volkswagen without getting blood on his shoes, Curry said.
Police serving a search warrant at Burks’ Edgechester Avenue home later found the white sneakers he wore that night, and found no blood on them, she said.
Whitaker discounted that, saying the shoes were never tested for blood.
Other goods taken from the Shorts’ home included cash, coins, a video game console and some games, Whitaker noted, citing testimony that Burks the next day had the game machine and some of the games, evidence he was a willing participant in the thefts.
Three days after the homicides, Burks and another teen photographed themselves wearing some of Caleb’s stolen clothes, and posted the images to Facebook, Whitaker added.
Also evidence of Burks’ guilt were the Facebook messages he and Tapley exchanged the next day, after the homicides made the news. Burks asked Tapley to call, and Tapley answered he could not because he was with his family.
“Look on the news,” Burks messaged him.
“I did,” Tapley replied, adding, “No snitching. No telling anybody what we did.”
“OK,” Burks replied.
Whitaker also noted Gibson’s testimony that Burks helped bind Caleb with tape after Tapley called Caleb outside the Shorts’ home. “If he had a part in that, he had a part in all of it,” the prosecutor said.