The Lee County judge presiding over the Courtney Lockhart capital murder case has ruled against a defense motion that he and all Circuit Court judges should be recused from the case.
Judge Jacob A. Walker III's Friday order refutes the arguments of defense attorney Jeremy Armstrong, who said Wednesday that Walker's March recitation of the charges against his client could give the public a perception that the judge is biased against Lockhart, 23. Walker also denied Armstrong's argument that because all judges are closely tied to Auburn University, they should step away from the case.
Lauren Burk, 18, was a freshman at the university when authorities say Lockhart forced her into her car March 4, made her drive around and take off her clothes before he fatally shot her.
"The court does not believe that any impression of bias has been nor would be created," Walker writes. "There is no reason to believe that any person would reasonably question the impartiality of the court in this case based on the reading of the warrants at the initial appearance hearing."
Walker notes in his ruling that defense attorneys will appeal his decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. He has postponed the case until that court makes a ruling.
The judge previously said that he wanted a series of status conferences starting in the late summer or early fall. Wednesday's hearing where Armstrong made his arguments was the first.
On June 11, Walker put a hold on the case and ordered an evaluation of Lockhart's "competency to stand trial and mental state at the time of the offense." A gag order has been issued to keep everyone involved in the case from publicly discussing it.
Burk of Marietta, Ga., was found lying in the roadway of Ala. 147 between Lee Road 72 and U.S. 280 on March 4. She died of a gunshot would at the East Alabama Medical Center.
Police later found her black 2001 Honda Civic on fire in the Hinton Field parking lot on Auburn's campus. Lockhart told police that after he shot Burk, he drove her car back to campus and set it on fire, warrants state.