The prosecution offered Tuesday a parade of Columbus Police detectives, past and present, and a neighbor who was one of the first on the scene of the 1992 homicide of then-school Superintendent Jim Burns during the sixth day of the murder trial in Muscogee County Superior Court.
Kareem Lane, a 17-year-old Shaw High junior at the time of the crime, is charged with the Oct. 19, 1992, fatal stabbing of Burns inside his home at 620 Broadway. He is being tried for the second time in two years in Muscogee County Superior Court.
His first trial in September 2012 ended with a mistrial when the jury locked on a 10-2 vote in favor of finding him innocent, attorneys said. He afterward was released on $30,000 bond and moved with his wife to the Birmingham, Ala., area.
The prosecution agreed Tuesday to let the defense call out of order a DNA expert from California. Defense attorney Stacey Jackson put Thomas Fedor, a recently retired forensic serologist, on the stand.
Much of the testimony centered on trace DNA evidence that the prosecution had experts testify about last week.
Forensic biologist Arthur Young of Guardian Forensic Sciences of Willow Grove, Penn., previously testified evidence recovered from the dagger’s wooden handle yielded partial DNA profiles for Lane, Burns and a third, unknown individual. Statistically, the portions of DNA matching Lane also belong to one in every 50 white males, one in every 60 Hispanic men, and one in every 120 black men, Young said.
Jackson asked Fedor what would have happened if Lane wore gloves, as previous testimony has revealed.
“If the defendant wore gloves then he did not put his DNA on the knife handle,” Fedor said. “Then what we have been discussing is not relevant.” Fedor spent about an hour on the stand before the prosecution resumed its case.
Barbara Judice, who lives in the home directly south of the former Burns’ residence, told the jury she was taking weekend graduate courses at the time of Burns’ slaying and had returned home about 11 that night.
She heard screams and was not sure what was happening. Her house was close enough for her to look out a window and see someone reaching for a phone in the Burns’ bedroom, she told the court.
“I ran next door and saw Jim on the floor,” she said.
Later, she also saw Burns’ wife, Stella, now Stella Burns Butler, in her house coat. “She had her hands up, saying, ‘no, no, no,’” Judice testified. She testified she saw no one running from the Burns home.
In previous testimony, Stella Burns Butler said she awoke when the bed shook and her husband yelled, “Get out of here, you son of a bitch!” She saw him chase an intruder from the bedroom, and by the time she reached the top of the stairs, Burns was standing in the open doorway on the first floor, where he collapsed and died, she said.
According to police records, a Front Avenue resident first called 911 at 11:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, 1992, to report a suspicious truck. When no police officer responded, she called back at 12:17 a.m. to say the truck was still there.
Stella Burns called 911 to get an ambulance for her husband 53 seconds after 12:23 a.m.
Fifty-four seconds after 12:25 a.m., the Front Avenue resident called 911 to report the masked runner and describe the gray Ford Ranger pickup. Five Columbus Police detectives testified Tuesday concerning the searches of Lane’s home on Bertcliff Avenue in Midland and ruling out other possible suspects in the case.
Detectives Karen Gaskins and Mike Tovey told the court that they twice searched the home Lane lived in with his parents, Willie and Linda Rochelle Lane. Much of Tuesday’s questioning of Gaskins and Tovey centered on the search they did of Lane’s home and room three days after the crime. Gaskins testified that Kareem Lane gave her many of the items on the search warrant and there was not an extensive search of the house.
Under questioning from prosecutor Jennifer Cooley, Gaskins said the clothing items were given to her neatly folded and appeared to be cleaned. Defense attorney Stacey Jackson jumped on that during cross examination of Gaskins.
“Nothing was mentioned in your report about them appearing to be washed,” Jackson asked the detective.
Gaskins told the court it was not noted in the police report.
Tovey, now retired, was asked why he and Gaskins stopped searching Lane’s bedroom after about 10 minutes.
“We were told to by a supervisor,” Tovey said.
District Attorney Julia Slater, who questioned Tovey, asked him if it was unusual to be called off a search. Jackson quickly objected to the question. After sidebar with Peters, Slater ended her questioning of Tovey without any additional questions.
Two detectives testified that their responsibility in the investigation was to check out suspects other than Lane. Lt. Steve Cox told the jury he ruled out Christopher Thompson when he discovered he purchased cigarettes at a Veterans Parkway convenience store and snuck into The Medical Center and watched part of the Atlanta Braves World Series game in a fifth floor waiting room.
Two suspects, one a 16-year-old juvenile and the other Carey Sanks, were ruled out when the investigation revealed they were both incarcerated at the time Burns was stabbed.
Attorneys and Judge Bobby Peters discussed the possibility of taking the jury to 620 Broadway and Front Avenue where the gray truck was parked at the time of Burns’ death.
Lead prosecutor George Lipscomb said he wanted the jury to see the home and the distance between it and Front Avenue.
“I could not get full picture until I walked it,” Lipscomb told the judge outside the presence of the jury.
Jackson argued against taking the jury to the scene, saying it would inject new evidence into the case.
Peters did not rule on the motion Tuesday to take the jury on the four-block road trip, but the judge did express concern about the scene 22 years after the crime.
They did not charge Lane with Burns’ homicide until cold-case investigators arrested him May 4, 2010, in Pell City, Ala., where Lane lived with his wife in a mobile home park and worked in a nearby auto parts plant.
Peters has been holding court until about 3 p.m. each day, giving the jury a brief lunch break. Tuesday court ended about an hour earlier than scheduled when the prosecution informed the judge that it did not have any more witnesses available for the day.
Peters quipped, “Can you sing and dance?”
Court will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Peters’ ninth-floor Government Center courtroom.