Prosecutors today rested their case against Kareem Lane, the Pell City, Ala., man charged in the 1992 fatal stabbing of former Muscogee County School District Superintendent Jim Burns. Jurors have said they'd prefer to begin deliberating Monday morning rather than this evening.
Over eight days of testimony, the state called 32 witnesses who outlined a circumstantial case against Lane, who was a 17-year-old student at Shaw High School at the time of Burns’ death. Witnesses who lived near the superintendent in the Historic District testified they saw Lane’s pickup parked suspiciously in the area about the time of the stabbing.
Police officers who encountered Lane the night of the stabbing said he was cooperative but also somewhat suspicious. He had been held in investigative detention but was ultimately released after investigators failed to place him at the scene of the crime.
Prosecutors pointed to an empty knife sheath found in Lane's pickup, and also presented evidence that showed Lane was not excluded from having contributed to a mixed DNA profile extracted from the knife that killed Burns. The evidence was not conclusive, however, and showed that an unidentified person also contributed to the sample.
Lane, 37, has denied the murder charges but did not take the witness stand in his own defense. The defense called just one witness, a California serologist who underlined the uncertainty of the mixed DNA profile.
Lane spoke into his microphone this morning for the first time during the trial, telling Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters that his defense attorney, Stacey Jackson, had gone over his options with him thoroughly.
Jackson made a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal, telling Peters the state's evidence amounted to "pure speculation and conjecture."
"The DNA evidence ended up turning out to be nothing, or having no weight at all," Jackson argued, calling the evidence "so slim and so lax."
Jackson faulted the prosecution for calling last-minute witnesses and introducing new evidence late in the trial. "It seems to be, here we are in the middle of the trial, and even in the second week of trial they're still investigating."
Prosecutor LaRae Dixon Moore stood by the state's case and the prosecution's decision to call last-minute witnesses. One of those witnesses, Nancy Boren, the former assistant coroner, was not asked to testify in the case until Thursday.
Boren this morning was called to clear up a question mark about an unidentified pair of eyeglasses photographed under Burns' body. Boren, currently the Muscogee County elections director, said then-Coroner Don Kilgore had complained his eyeglasses fell out of his pocket while he was investigating Burns' death.
Moore also defended the state's decision to conduct further DNA testing this week that showed Burns' widow, Stella Burns Butler, could not have contributed to the DNA sample on the knife.
“We did what justice requires," Moore said. "We don’t believe that Mrs. Butler is the killer to begin with. We believe the physical evidence at the scene disputes that.”
Peters took Jackson's motion for directed verdict under advisement. Closing arguments are expected to begin at 2 p.m. Each side has two hours apiece.
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