After seven days of testimony, the prosecution and defense rested their cases Wednesday in the murder trial of then-school superintendent Jim Burns, likely sending it to the jury sometime today.
It will mark the second time in two years that a Muscogee County Superior Court jury has considered the fate of Kareen Lane, who has been accused in the October 1992 stabbing death of Burns inside the superintendent’s Historic District home.
Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Judge Bobby Peters’ ninth-floor Government Center courtroom. The jury will then consider two murder charges against Lane, one malice murder and one felony murder, which includes an aggravated assault of Burns. A burglary charge against Lane was dropped by prosecutors shortly before the state rested its case.
The jury did not hear from Lane, who was a 17-year-old Shaw High junior at the time of Burns’ death. He told Peters he did not wish to testify, which was the same thing he did in the first trial. Only one witness, a California DNA expert, was put up in Lane’s defense.
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Attorney Stacey Jackson asked Peters to issue a directed verdict for acquittal, saying the state had failed to prove its case by a lack of evidence that puts Lane inside the house.
Peters denied the motion, telling Jackson, “This is a matter for the jury to decide.”
The biggest decision the court faced Wednesday was a request from the prosecution that the jury, consisting of seven blacks and five whites, be taken to the crime scene at 620 Broadway.
“I don’t think it is necessary to do that, so we won’t be going to the crime scene.” Peters said.
The judge’s reasoning was there were a number of photos of the crime scene already in evidence, and he expressed concern that 22 years have passed since the homicide. Peters also cited logistical issues in taking the jury to the scene.
Jackson argued against allowing the jury to see the crime scene, which originally was described as the home on Broadway to include a section of Front Avenue where a truck believed to be driven by Lane was parked. Jackson’s argument was it would introduce new evidence into the case.
District Attorney Julia Slater amended the request to only include the home, but Peters still denied it.
The prosecution used its final two witnesses — two Columbus police officers — to try and put Lane in the Burns’ home by a shoe print found inside the house that they say matches the shoes Lane was wearing that night.
Former detective Vince Pasko, who testified in the first trial, committed suicide a year ago, but the tape of his 2012 testimony was played for the jury. The primary purpose of Pasko’s testimony was to get the shoe print found inside the home into evidence.
That set the stage for Columbus police crime scene investigator David Jury to testify about the shoe print and the work he has done since 2009 to connect Lane’s shoe to the partial print.
Jackson and Slater clashed over Jury’s testimony. Jury is considered an expert in fingerprint matters, but not shoe print evidence. Slater told the court she was not presenting Jury as a shoe print expert, only asking his opinion of a possible match. Jackson argued Jury can’t give an opinion on shoe print analysis without being an expert.
Peters allowed Jury to offer an opinion, admitting they were walking a fine line. Jury said, in his opinion as a layman, that the shoe print and the shoe were a match.
Jackson argued against the jury seeing a PowerPoint overlay of photos Jury shot of the shoe and crime scene photos of the partial print. Peters allowed the jury to see the PowerPoint slide. Jackson was standing beside the jury box watching the brief PowerPoint presentation carefully.
“There is a No. 10 in the photo of the shoe, but there is no No. 10 in the print, right?” Jackson asked Jury. The officer told Jackson he was right.
Jackson then asked Jury why he was working off of a photo of the shoe print and not the actual print cut out of plaster. Jury said that evidence was not collected.
“We would have rather had the original items, but sometimes we just have to work with what we have,” Jury told Jackson.
In previous testimony, Burns’ widow, 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.
Lane’s first trial ended with a mistrial when the jury locked on a 10-2 vote in favor of finding him innocent, attorneys said.
Lane has been free on $30,000 bond since shortly after the 2012 trial. He and his wife moved to the Birmingham, Ala., area.