Only the Upatoi triple-homicide suspect who knew the slain family had the motivation to bludgeon them so brutally while ransacking their Bentley Drive home in January 2016, the attorney for Rufus Leonard Burks IV told jurors Tuesday during closing arguments in Burks’ murder trial.
The prosecution countered that one suspect acting alone could not have bound all three victims with tape, beaten them repeatedly with a 20-pound dumbbell in two different parts of the house, ransacked their home and stolen two vehicles.
No lone individual could have run from room to room beating people and destroying furnishings so quickly, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker: “You’re not going to be like the Energizer Bunny running from one person to another with a 20-pound weight,” he said, later adding, “I’m going to tell you, it takes two to make this nightmare come true.”
Jurors in the triple-murder trial now must decide whether to find Burks guilty in the slayings of Gloria Short, 54; her son Caleb Short, 17; and granddaughter Gianna Lindsey, 10; found dead Jan. 4, 2016, in the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home.
Charged in the case besides Burks were Jervarceay Tapley and Raheam Gibson. Tapley has pleaded guilty to three counts of murder. Gibson has agreed to plead guilty, and testified for the prosecution last week.
It was Tapley, then 16, who had the motive to kill the family in a rage, said Burks’ attorney Jennifer Curry: He once spent his summers with the Shorts, accompanying them on trips to ballgames and to Disney World. He was connected to the Shorts through Gloria Short’s brother, Robert Averett, his grandmother’s boyfriend, because he lived with the couple.
The Shorts treated Tapley as though he was Caleb’s cousin. Tapley last spent time with the Shorts in the summer of 2014, and the family afterward severed ties to him, Curry said.
After that, his anger and resentment toward them grew, the attorney said: “He’s so angry that he’s no longer included in this family.”
That’s what provoked the violent rampage in the Shorts’ 3057 Bentley Drive home the night of Jan. 3, 2016, when Tapley used a 20-pound dumbbell repeatedly to bludgeon the three victims, Curry said.
“This was anger, rage, repeated action,” the attorney said. Tapley beat them not only with a dumbbell, but also with other items police found shattered on the floor, including a teapot and a lamp. “He used whatever he could in his rage,” Curry said.
She made this argument while trying to minimize her client’s role, claiming Burks was not inside the home when Tapley killed the three. Burks and another suspect, Raheam Gibson, already had left in one of two vehicles stolen from the Shorts that night, she said.
Whitaker disputed this: The Shorts had not cut ties to Tapley, he said. Tapley had not joined them on any excursions in 2015 because he moved to Alabama, before returning to Columbus to live with his grandmother and her boyfriend.
Citing Gibson’s testimony that Gibson waited outside the Shorts’ home after Tapley and Burks went inside the night of Jan. 3, 2016, Whitaker argued Burks must have joined in the killing spree, because one man could not have done it alone.
Not only were three people bound with tape and beaten repeatedly, parts of the house were ransacked, leaving what investigators called a “debris field” around the bodies of Gianna and Gloria Short.
Tapley would have been inside alone for about 20 minutes, after Burks and Gibson left, Whitaker said: He could not have bound the victims in two different rooms, repeatedly bludgeoned them and wrecked the house on his own in so short a time.
Gloria Short was found dead in a central hallway, and Gianna lay nearby in the living room. Caleb was found in a closet off the master bedroom.
“He’d have had to be like the Tasmanian devil,” Whitaker said, referring to the whirling Warner Bros. cartoon character who leaves destruction in his wake.
Curry cited Gibson’s testimony that Burks that night wore white Adidas sneakers, and Gibson saw no blood on Burks when he and Burks left in the Shorts’ silver Volkswagen Beetle. Burks was neither sweating nor short of breath, like he’d been involved in a struggle, Gibson testified.
After Gibson waited outside the home, Burks came out and called him into the Shorts’ garage, where the VW had been loaded with loot such as Caleb’s clothes, particularly the Nike Air Jordans he collected.
Because Gloria Short was found in a pool of blood in the hallway leading to the garage, Burks could not have helped Tapley move the stolen goods to the Volkswagen without getting blood on his shoes, Curry said.
Police serving a search warrant at Burks’ Edgechester Avenue home later found the white sneakers he wore that night, and found no blood on them, she said.
Whitaker discounted that, saying the shoes were never tested for blood.
Other goods taken from the Shorts’ home included cash, coins, a video game console and some games, Whitaker noted, citing testimony that Burks the next day had the game machine and some of the games, evidence he was a willing participant in the thefts.
Three days after the homicides, Burks and another teen photographed themselves wearing some of Caleb’s stolen clothes, and posted the images to Facebook, Whitaker added.
Also evidence of Burks’ guilt were the Facebook messages he and Tapley exchanged the next day, after the homicides made the news. Burks asked Tapley to call, and Tapley answered he could not because he was with his family.
“Look on the news,” Burks messaged him.
“I did,” Tapley replied, adding, “No snitching. No telling anybody what we did.”
“OK,” Burks replied.
Whitaker also noted Gibson’s testimony that Burks helped bind Caleb with tape after Tapley called Caleb outside the Shorts’ home. “If he had a part in that, he had a part in all of it,” the prosecutor said.
Both sides recounted testimony from Gibson and from Marcus Dermer, a fourth teen Tapley recruited for the scheme. Dermer did not accompany the trio, deciding instead to spend the evening with his girlfriend.
When all four met the afternoon of Jan. 3, 2016, Tapley told them he wanted to do “a lick,” meaning commit a robbery or theft. They were to meet around 6 p.m. at Arbor Pointe off Benning Drive in south Columbus.
Gibson said that when Dermer didn’t show, the others started toward Bentley Drive, with he and Burks on Burks’ moped and Tapley on a bicycle. Surveillance video showed they traveled up Illges Road to Macon Road and turned east.
The bicycle broke down near the state driver’s license bureau on Macon Road, so Tapley ditched the bike, and they took turns “leap-frogging” on the moped, with two going ahead before one turned back to get the third.
They arrived on Bentley Drive some time after 10:30, as Gloria Short last sent a text message on her phone at 10:29. Dermer got a call from the three suspects at 10:34 p.m., and testified he could hear all three talking on speaker phone. They told him they were in east Columbus, he said.
Gibson said that when they arrived, Tapley led them into the backyard, called Caleb’s cellphone and asked Caleb to come to his rear bedroom window, where Tapley told him to go out the front door.
When Caleb came out, Tapley pinned him down and called Burks to help bind him with tape before they dragged him into the backyard. Tapley then came back around and went in the front door, Gibson said.
As he waited outside, Gibson heard no commotion from inside the house, and had no clue what was happening, he said: “I was just standing there confused.”
Eventually Burks called him to the garage, and they left in the Volkswagen. Burks had to drive because Gibson is mentally challenged and unable to. Tapley then went back inside the Shorts’ home, saying he would find more things to steal, Gibson said.
Driving back into town, they tried to call Tapley, but got no answer. They had reached the Wynnton area of midtown when Tapley called back and told them to meet him in Oakland Park off South Lumpkin Road. Having taken the Shorts’ GMC Envoy, Tapley was waiting for them when they got there, Gibson said.
They moved the loot from the VW to the Envoy, and Tapley collected all the car keys, telling Gibson and Burks to walk to his Calhoun Drive home. He drove there in the Envoy.
Police later found both vehicles abandoned in Oakland Park. Each had blood in it, around the driver’s seat.
Curry argued it was Tapley, not Burks, who left blood in the VW. She said Tapley must have left it there later that night, having gone back to make sure both cars were cleared out. Whitaker said Burks left the blood, proving he participated in the homicides.
Dermer, the teen who didn’t join them that night, said Tapley called him about 1 a.m. to say he had some things for Dermer to pick up. When he awoke the next morning, he found a bag of Caleb’s clothes outside his house, Dermer said.
Dermer later appeared on Facebook with Burks, posing in Caleb’s clothes.
Detectives testified they later found more of Caleb’s clothes thrown over a backyard fence at Tapley’s Calhoun Drive home.
Around 7:30 a.m. Jan. 4, 2016, nurse Robert Short Sr. came home to find his wife, son and granddaughter bound and beaten to death. Later autopsies showed Gloria Short and Gianna also had cuts and stab wounds – 23 on Gianna, 11 on her grandmother.
“They’ve been tied up and beaten!” Robert Short sobbed on his 8:02 a.m. 911 call. “Who would do this to my family? Who would do this?”
Addressing the jury Tuesday morning, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Williams called it “one of the worst crimes to hit Columbus.”
Three people were slain for nothing more than some cash, clothes and video games, he said, asking, “How much is a life worth? Two lives? Three lives? Certainly more than some Jordans, some PlayStation 4 games and some clothes.”
Besides the cold-blooded brutality of the crime and the little gained from it, the suspects’ ages were shocking: Gibson was 19; Tapley was 16; Burks was only 15.
Jurors began deliberating the case against Burks about 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Judge Gil McBride called a recess about 4:30, and sent them home. They’re to return at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Now 17, Burks faces 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.