Jurors deliberated all day Monday without reaching a verdict in the murder trial of Kareem Lane, the 37-year-old Pell City, Ala., man charged with fatally stabbing former Muscogee County School District Superintendent Jim Burns in 1992.
The jury went out about 10:18 a.m. and recessed for the day at about 5:30 p.m. They're set to resume deliberating at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
All 12 must agree to either convict or acquit Lane, who has been jailed since his May 2010 arrest in the cold case.
Jurors ate Papa John's pizza for lunch, requested an easel to view exhibits and, just before 4 p.m., sent a series of questions scrawled on separate notes to Peters, apparently pertaining to the evidence. Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters did not read the notes aloud, but sent a couple of notes back to the jury after a sidebar with attorneys.
The panel heard closing arguments Friday after eight days of testimony in which no eyewitnesses placed Lane at the crime scene. Forensic testing did not definitively implicate Lane but showed he was a possible contributor to a mixed DNA profile extracted from the knife that killed Burns.
Prosecutors tried to piece together circumstantial evidence they say points to Lane, including an empty knife sheath found in his pickup that authorities say fits the murder weapon. But they couldn’t answer the question of why a 17-year-old high school student who worked at Hardee’s in 1992 would sneak into the superintendent’s house and kill him without taking anything.
“If the state had a motive, they’d be talking about it. Trust that,” defense attorney Stacey Jackson told jurors in his closing argument. “Don’t throw out common sense.”
Jackson contends motive wasn’t the only element missing from the state’s case. He pointed to a lack of physical evidence, an unidentified contributor to the mixed DNA profile and other possible suspects.
Burns' death came at a time of contention between him and some school board members, and spawned a number of conspiracy theories. The killer apparently entered the home using a key left under the front door mat. The telephone in Burns' bedroom was found to be unplugged.
Burns' widow, Stella Burns Butler, testified she was asleep next to her husband on the night of the stabbing when she was awakened by a loud jarring of the bed. She said she saw her husband cuss at and chase a shadowy attacker out of their bedroom, but could not identify the man.
Butler denied involvement in her husband's death. She said she placed the key under the mat in anticipation of Burns' parents arriving from out of town, and forgot to remove it after they returned from a weekend trip to their North Carolina mountain home.
Lane had been questioned Oct. 19, 1992, after witnesses who lived around the corner from Burns reported seeing a gray Ford Ranger parked suspiciously in the area and a masked man jogging toward it. Police spotted Lane driving a pickup that fit the description of the suspect vehicle and pulled him over on Macon Road shortly after the stabbing.
The witnesses later said they recognized a light decal on the back window of the pickup, but they did not identify Lane. In addition to the empty knife sheath, police also found clothing and a gray T-shirt that District Attorney Julia Slater contends Lane used as a mask.
Prosecutors sought to portray Lane as behaving in an unusual manner during his traffic stop and several hours of questioning. Lane told police he had changed out of his work clothing in his pickup before heading to a game lounge on Victory Drive; he was said to be sweating despite cool temperatures; he didn't ask to call his parents from the police department; and he fell asleep in an interview room at some point, prosecutors said.
Slater told jurors last week that the state had presented "overwhelming evidence" and had "no doubt" about Lane's culpability.
"In some sick, odd twist of fate, Dr. James Burns drew his last breath at the hands of a student," prosecutor LaRae Dixon Moore said in her opening statement, noting Burns had dedicated his life to educating children.
Jackson said prosecutors had no case, and said jurors should have more than enough reasonable doubt to acquit.