Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker III went against a jury’s recommendation today and sentenced Courtney Lockhart to death for the murder of Auburn freshman Lauren Burk.
Lockhart, 26, was convicted in November of the March 4, 2008, fatal shooting of the 18-year-old Marietta, Ga., student. Jurors found that Lockhart abducted Burk on campus, drove her around in her 2001 black Honda Civic and made her disrobe before fatally shooting her.
A courtroom exchange between Jim Burk, Lauren Burk's father, and Lockhart prompted a recess this morning.
Burk, who favored the death penalty for Lockhart, was testifying about the fact that Lockhart had forfeited his right to raise his own daughter.
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Lockhart then interrupted Burk's testimony, first quietly then much louder.
"I feel his pain," Lockhart said as deputies began to move toward him "But you are not going to talk about my daughter. I am sorry, so sorry, but you are not going to bring my daughter into it."
Burk quickly responded.
"I am not going to bring your daughter into it," Burk said. "I wish you hadn't brought my daughter into it."
Walker called for a brief break.
Jurors recommended in a 12-0 vote at the end Lockhart’s trial that he be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. The final decision, however, rested with Walker, who chose Lockhart should die for the crime.
Before sentencing, the judge discussed a series robberies Lockhart is accused of committing before and after Burk's murder. Those crimes happened in Newnan, Columbus, Phenix City and Lee County. The jury was not told of those crimes. If jurors known, the jury recommendation might have been different, Walker said.
"It is therefore my decision to override the jury's recommendation in this case and sentence Lockhart to death by lethal injection," Walker said.
Lockhart's mother began to cry loudly. Lockhart turned around, looked at his mother and told her, "Stop that." She continued to cry and Lockhart motioned for his family to take her outside.
Walker concluded the hearing at that point.
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