For 3½ hours Monday, jurors in the triple-murder trial of Rufus Leonard Burks IV sat in a sweltering courtroom and viewed graphic photos as a medical examiner detailed the autopsies of Gloria Short, her son Caleb Short and granddaughter Gianna Lindsey.
All three victims brutally were bludgeoned with a 20-pound dumbbell, causing skull fractures and brain hemorrhaging, and Gloria Short and Gianna also were cut and stabbed multiple times, the physician said.
What their killers cut and stabbed them with was unclear, as investigators never determined precisely what implement was used to make those wounds.
Responding to a question from Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker, medical examiner Natasha Grandhi acknowledged an arrow found near the bodies could have made some of the wounds. But crime-scene investigators earlier testified they found no blood on the arrow, which had been stored with a compound bow in the attic of the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home.
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The dumbbell, one of a pair Caleb Short kept in his bedroom, was found beside Gianna’s body, and bore blood from all three victims.
Each was bound with tape, some of it blue painter’s tape and some of it duct tape. The tape still was on the bodies when they arrived at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Decatur, Grandhi said.
She went through the autopsies one by one, starting with Gianna, 10; then Caleb, 17; and then Gloria Short, 54.
Grandhi said she was able to count 23 “sharp-force injuries” — either cuts or punctures — on Gianna’s body, but the injuries resulting from “blunt force trauma” were innumerable.
“Miss Lindsey had multiple blunt and sharp-force injuries,” including punctures to the left side of her neck, her left ear and her chest, Grandhi said when asked her overall assessment, .
The neck wounds alone would have killed her, having punctured her carotid artery and jugular vein, interrupting blood flow to her brain, the pathologist said. But Gianna also had profuse bleeding in her brain as a result of the bludgeoning that left her with skull fractures.
The child also had lacerations to her mouth, damaging her teeth and breaking the tissue that attached her upper lip to her gum.
The bleeding associated with the injuries showed she still was alive when she sustained them, Grandhi said.
Like Gianna, Caleb also had lacerations to his mouth, where he was beaten so badly the blows knocked out his teeth and broke his jaw. His skull appeared dented at the bridge of his nose, and it was fractured so violently fragments of it embedded in his brain tissue, the examiner said.
His cause of death was “multiple blunt-force injuries,” Grandhi said, explaining that when a victim is beaten repeatedly in the same spot, an autopsy can’t determine how many blows were sustained.
Gloria Short was stabbed and cut on her chest, and had a laceration to her right forehead so deep that it exposed her skull.
She had a stab wound to the right side of her neck that punctured her jugular vein, and two punctures to her heart, Grandhi said.
The pathologist said she found no evidence the victims were sexually assaulted.
Grandhi was the prosecution’s last witness, and Burks’ attorney Jennifer Curry called none in his defense. She asked Judge Gil McBride to acquit her client, saying the evidence was insufficient to proceed. McBride denied that.
Burks chose not to testify, and the judge set closing arguments for 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Burks is the only defendant to go to trial. Another suspect, Jervarceay Tapley, has pleaded guilty to three counts of murder. A third, Raheam Gibson, has agreed to plead guilty, and testified for the prosecution.
Police said Tapley instigated the crime, as he knew the Shorts well, having spent summers with the family, sometimes accompanying them on vacations and other trips.
Tapley recruited Burks and Gibson to assist in his scheme to rob the Shorts of valuables such as cash, coins, a video game console and games, and Caleb’s clothing, particularly the Nike Air Jordan sneakers he collected, investigators said.
Photographs of others wearing the stolen clothes were posted to Facebook soon afterward.
Two vehicles also were stolen, but later found abandoned in Columbus’ Oakland Park neighborhood off South Lumpkin Road.
Back in January 2016, Gibson was 19; Tapley was 16; and Burks was 15.
They traveled about 20 miles from Arbor Pointe off Benning Drive to the Shorts’ home on Jan. 3, 2016, taking turns on a moped and a bicycle. Gibson testified last week that Tapley called Caleb’s cell phone when they arrived, and Caleb at first talked to Tapley through his bedroom window before meeting his longtime friend at the front door.
That’s when Tapley pinned Caleb down and Burks helped bind him with tape, before they went inside the house, Gibson said. He said he waited outside until they told him it was time to go, and then he and Burks left in the Shorts’ Volkswagen Beetle, which was packed with loot. Driving the Shorts’ GMC Envoy, Tapley met them later in Oakland Park.
Around 8 a.m. Jan. 4, 2016, nurse Robert Short Sr. came home from working the night shift at Northside Hospital, and found his wife, son and granddaughter dead.
Now 17, Burks is being tried on 10 counts: three counts of malice or intentional murder; three counts of felony murder for allegedly killing the three victims while committing the felony of aggravated assault; two counts of auto theft; and one count each of kidnapping and first-degree burglary.