Brent Burke

Going into this case I often thought of the case of Timothy Hennis in which after failing to obtain a conviction through civil courts (although results varied between these two cases) the military had decided to use their power to prosecute.  Like so many of the other cases that I blog about I heard about this case on one of the many documentary shows that I almost exclusively watch.  After watching such shows the case goes on a list in which I have compiled to research at some point.  I have long discovered that the documentary shows obviously leave out a lot of facts and that the best information to be found is through appeals papers that are published on the Internet. 

This case is one of the rarer ones that I have come across.  First you have the issue of the civilian verses military issue.  But secondly, this is one of those cases that through the information I found in my research I do believe the defendant is guilty yet I am unsure that I agree there was enough information or evidence to prove it in a court of law.  I will admit that after watching the documentary show, and first beginning my research, I was less convinced of Brent Burke's guilt.  However, upon seeing a court filing by the victim's family and the decision of the court in that case I learned much more than I had found in other information. The sad part about this is that to find that information I had to do a different type of search than I normally do when I research a case.  We all know that information released by the media often shapes public opinion and when the entire story is not released then we are only left with bits and pieces to determine what happened.  

When I start researching a case I generally put the name on my list (it could be a victim or a defendant) and the words "and murder" unless I have left myself a note specifying that it is not a murder case, into a Google search.  In general this seems to work well at pulling up any information about the case but for some reason by doing this with this case I had not found any appeals and before compiling the story I wanted to check to be sure there had not been any filed.  It was by putting in "Brent Burke and appeal" that I was able to find the case that was filed by the victims families.  It was in this court filing that I felt I was able to obtain more insight into the case than the general media had released.

On September 11, 2007, 911 operators in Rineyville Kentucky received a phone call from nine year old Matthew Pete.  He was calling to report that during the night someone had come into the home he was living in and had shot his mother, Tracy Burke and his paternal grandmother, Karen Comer.  Matthew indicated that he and his siblings, Eion (4) and Raegan (2) had been in the home at the time also but they were unharmed.  When investigators arrived they found that both Tracy and Karen were dead from 9 mm gunshot wounds.  

Investigators and family of the victims would argue that immediately four year old Eion stated that it had been his father, Brent Burke, who had shot the women.  Supporters of Burke argue that Eion was too young to know and that he had all but been brainwashed into believing this.  This of course will likely never truly be known.  What we do know is that Matthew had described the perpetrator initially to the investigators but said he could not positively identify the person. He had said the perpetrator wore a jacket similar to one owned by Brent Burke, his stepfather but stopped short of saying it was Burke who committed the crime.  Later Matthew would change his story at trial and state that it was Burke who had entered the home that night.  To be fair I have to say that I am unsure that the children's testimony can be believed not just because of their age but as supporters have stated they have lived with the families of the victims who do believe that Brent Burke was responsible and it is entirely possible that they have been conditioned to believe this also.  

That being said, we all know that when someone is murdered investigators look first at those closest to the victims, including current and ex-spouses.  They would soon learn that Tracy and Brent Burke were going through a divorce and it already did not seem to be a "pretty" one.   Brent Burke would have been contacted shortly not just because he was the spouse and he would need to be questioned but because he had two children who had just lost their mother and by all legal standards he would have been their now sole legal guardian.  Burke was approximately 140 miles away living in the barracks of Fort Campbell Kentucky.  This distance and the time available would come into play at his upcoming trials. 

Investigators would claim that their interview with Brent Burke was interesting to say the least.  However, that first interview would not be shown to a jury as a judge stated he had not properly been read his rights.  However, the lead detective, Larry Walker, stated that Burke's story kept changing and he was most surprised when within just a few minutes of starting the interview Burke told him that Tracy had taken the gun.  Walker would claim that this was all without prompting from him.  According to records, Burke had been on duty at the base, working as a MP until 10:30 the night before.  He returned to the barracks in which he was living around 11:30.  Burke admits that he soon left the barracks.  He claims he did so because he could not sleep and that he had first gone to put gas in his truck and then to shop for trucks in the middle of the night. Burke claims that after doing this he had headed back to the barracks but that it was too hot in the barracks to sleep so he slept in his car until 6:00 in the morning. For their part the investigators did not buy his story about truck shopping and believed that he had made the two plus hour drive to Rineyville and had committed the murders.  The defense would continually claim that there was not enough time for Burke to drive to and from Rineyville, commit the murders, clean up and return home, let alone leave any physical evidence.

On October 15, 2007, just a little over a month after the murders Brent Burke was arrested and charged with premeditated murder, breaking and entering, obstruction of justice and three counts of child endangerment.  The latter charge came from the fact that the three children were in the home when the murders occurred and the fact that Burke would have known that.  Getting the arrest was easy.... getting a conviction was another story.  

Burke's first trial began in September of 2009.  It ended almost as soon as it started in a mistrial.  Apparently a 14 year old named DeShawn White had bragged about committing he murders, and had even confessed to the police.  Investigators soon figured out it was a false confession, and White retracted his confession.  He would continue to do so over the next several years.  However, this affected the trial because the prosecution had never informed the defense of this issue, well at least they did not until just as the trial started so the judge granted a mistrial.

Burke's second trial began in January of 2010.  It too ended in a mistrial when Matthew Pete, Tracy's oldest son became too ill to testify.  Two more civil trials would follow.  One was in September of 2010 and the last was in March of 2011.  Both trials ended in hung juries.  

I have to be honest and tell you that other than the testimony from the children, and showing that Burke had ample time to commit the crimes I am unsure exactly what the prosecution presented at the trials.  As far as physical evidence, there was none.  There was no DNA, there was no weapon, apparently there were not even fingerprints.  It seems the closest the prosecution could come to even putting a .9 mm gun connected to Burke was when Tracy's father, David Wilburn, stated he had given Burke a .9 mm several months before the shooting.  Burke would dispute this saying that the gun Wilburn gave him was a .38 and not a .9 mm and that he had given Tracy the gun when she had left him.  This apparently was the gun the original investigators said Burke began immediately speaking of in his interview. 

After four civil trials and no answer out of any of them, the prosecution decided to drop charges.  Most speculate that considering that a mere nine days later the military would take up the case that this was a plan between the prosecution and the military whether they admit it or not.  Burke had the right to decide if he wanted a jury of enlisted men or officer's decide his fate.  He chose officers.  There are many differences between civil and military trials but one of the biggest is the fact that a military jury (known as a panel) does not have to come to a unanimous decision.  His military trial (also known as a court martial) would commence in May of 2012.  Not long before his trial the military would claim that they found a fragment of glass on Burke's jacket that was consistent with the glass that was broken going into Karen Comer's home.  In the end the military panel got the case and after three hours of deliberations they announced a guilty verdict.  He was ultimately dishonorably discharged from the military and sentenced to life without parole.  

Now, if you were to watch one of the documentary shows about this case you're going to hear mainly about the trials and a little into the personal life of the Burke family. As is the case with those types of shows you'll hear things from family members from all sides and of course you will get their perspective of things.  By watching an episode of 48 Hours on this case I heard of course that the couple was obviously having issues and had not been getting along for a while prior to the filing of divorce by Tracy in early June of 2007.  I also heard one of the things the defense believed exonerated Burke.  A neighbor of Comer's would claim that about 10 pm on the night of the murders he had heard gun shots. This obviously was a problem for the prosecution but not as much as you would think.  There are those that claim that the home was near a firing range so to hear gun shots was not unusual.  There was also an interview with Tracy's father in which he claimed that on the Saturday before the murders on Tuesday she had told him that Burke was acting strangely. He was either picking up or dropping the children off for visitation and had asked specific questions about where everyone slept in the home.  Now of course this in and of itself does not need to sound suspicious.  As a father he had the right to not only know where his children were living but their sleeping conditions also. But, according to her father Tracy thought it was odd behavior and then the fact that she was dead three days later makes it seem more so.  

However, my research found many more things that either I did not catch in the documentary show or that had not been announced.  In fact, these things were only found with much more digging.  In 2015 the families of Tracy Burke and Karen Comer in essence sued the United States Government.  Of course they were really suing the Army for their actions but it equated to the U.S.  As most of us know it is only on the rare occasion that there is even the possibility to sue the government for actions and it seems that their case had been dismissed and they appealed which is how I was able to come across the papers. The appeals court reversed the decision of the prior court in dismissing the case but in essence all they were saying was that it was allowed to go forward and be looked into more. It was in this court filing that I learned much more about Brent Burke's behavior prior to the murders.  While Burke was stationed in Egypt in 2005 he had apparently told his platoon leader that if Tracy ever left him he would kill him and then himself.  He would supposedly tell at least two other people this also but it was the platoon leader who would notify the higher ups.  The Army took the notion to take away his weapons and was put under supervision.  Due to this apparently he was then heard threatening the life of the platoon leader who had reported him.  He was then placed into mental health counseling and returned to Fort Campbell Kentucky.  By January of 2006 he was still apparently being medicated for "anger, depression and "other" psychological disorders" but was deployed to Afghanistan.  It seems his violent behavior and comments continued but it seems his deployment lasted at least a year.  

It seems that in early May of 2007 Burke had an incident with Tracy's son Matthew.  Many saw Burke's actions as abusive and although apparently Tracy did not report the incident it seems she had decided it was time for a divorce.  On May 26, 2007 the police were called to their home that was located off base. Tracy reportedly told them that Burke was trying to stop her from leaving the home and moving in with Karen Comer, who was her former mother in law.  Because Burke was a member of the military the Army was informed of the domestic incident.  They claimed to have investigated the incident and ordered a 72 hour "cooling off period" in which they ordered him to attend counseling once again and although they indicated in paperwork that his weapon had been inventoried and taken they were not.

Soon after this incident Tracy did officially file for divorce and while she moved with the children with Karen Comer, Brent moved into the barracks.  Anyone who was living in the barracks was required to register their personal firearms and they were to be store in what was called the unit arms room.  The lawsuit filed by the families claims that the military failed to question him about his weapons, therefore had once again not confiscated them per their rules.

The lawsuit went on to claim that the following month, June, Burke had told a fellow soldier, "I'm going to shoot that bitch."  It was said that Burke's supervisor was informed but that the claim was dismissed as being Burke simply letting off steam rather than being investigated. The month of August was a bit busy for Burke it seems when it came to his emotions towards his now soon to be ex wife.  On August 11th there was apparently another incident in which the police were notified and intervened.  Once again it was classified as "domestic" only this time apparently the Army, while notified, did not do an investigation as they were required to do.  Not long after this incident though Burke reportedly told another soldier that he would be better off if his wife was dead.  At this point at least the .9 mm handgun that apparently Burke was keeping in his car while he was living in the barracks was confiscated. On August 31st he was allowed to sign out his gun for "recreational use."  I cannot state the rules on how that is dealt with officially or how long he should have been able to have the gun before it was required he turn it back in, however, he had not returned it by the time of the murders on September 11th, some twelve days later.  The victims were murdered with a .9 mm that has never been found.

The fact that Burke, and his family, staunchly deny that he was involved in these murders mean little to me.  I have seen countless interviews with people proclaiming their innocence, as well as those who believe in the defendant.  I am not going to say that everyone who claims to be innocent is lying but there have been many and oftentimes they are able to convince others.  A prime example of this is the case of Roger Coleman who convinced so many people that he was innocent in the death of his sister in law that after he was executed there was a huge uproar that an innocent man had been put to death.  Twelve years after his execution the state of Virginia finally did DNA testing only to prove Coleman was in fact guilty.  The point here is that just because Burke says that he is innocent and continually proclaims that the Army has railroaded him, and he has supporters, in no way influences the way I see this case.  

This case is one of those in which I am unsure that I agree there was enough to convict Burke on the charges, yet I do believe he is guilty.  I do not believe in coincedences.  I would have liked to have seen at the very least some camera footage of some of the car lots that Burke claimed to go to in the middle of the night and I find it odd that neither side had presented them.  It would be unusual that none of the lots or even businesses in the area would not have cameras and the presence or the lack there of, of his vehicle would have helped one side or the other.  However, it says more to me that the defense did not show them.  If Burke was in fact truck shopping as he claimed, as a defense attorney they would want the jury to see that.  The fact that he was asking Tracy on Saturday where everyone slept (which again I did not necessarily find unusual to give the benefit of the doubt), but then the two women were killed on Tuesday sticks out at me.  It was apparently well documented that he had threatened Tracy's life to others several times in the few months prior to the murders.  While his family contends he has a temper they of course say he was not violent.  Even the Army saw that differently at least a few times.  In my opinion, I even do not give great credence to the testimony of the two boys who were nine and four at the time of the murders.  It is possible, as the defense and Burke's defenders contend, that they have been influenced over the years, especially Matthew who initially claimed to not know who the intruder was.  The only real "evidence" the prosecution had was the glass fragments found just before his military trial.  Even still that is not enough for me to prove guilt.  

In my opinion, despite efforts by the defense to prove otherwise, Burke had plenty of time to leave Ft. Campbell, make it to Rineyville, commit the murders, clean up and dispose of items such as the murder weapon on the way and make it back to Ft. Campbell.  I believe his prior behavior pointed to his intentions.  I cannot say what the juries in his last two civil trials were thinking when they came to a "non-decision" when the trials resulted in hung juries but I suspect it was because in essence the proof positive evidence was not there and to decide to take someone's freedom when there is such doubt would have been wrong.  I suspect that his future appeals will likely fail in court because while there may have not been enough evidence to prove he did it, it does appear there was no evidence that he did not, nor was there evidence that pointed to anyone else.  This is not a case in which unknown DNA was found in the home or no one has connected the defendant to a gun similar to the one used, or even a case where the victims seemed to have an issue with anyone but Burke, who openly expressed his hostility.  No, while I cannot agree that the evidence was presented to convict him in my mind, I do believe he is where he belongs.




Comments

  1. I just finished watching the 48 Hours episode and reading your very well written article. I completely agree with all of the points you made. There may not have been ample evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the one who did it, but as you stated, there wasn't any evidence to prove that someone else did it either. He did it. Nobody else had the motive and it is evident that the only crime committed in that house was the killing of the two women. No robbery and the children were not harmed. If someone else had been in that house that night, the motive would have been different and the crime committed would have been different. He obviously had it out for Tracy’s ex mother-in-law for giving her and the kids a place to stay. Poor woman was killed for helping her daughter-in-law.

    The Army should have followed protocol and held him accountable for the previous domestic situations as well as the threats he made to his fellow soldiers about killing his wife and himself if his wife ever left him and that he would be better off if his wife was dead. The Army did not enforce his counseling sessions nor did they monitor his weapons as they should have. Then again, even if they had confiscated his weapon again, when he returned from the recreational activity, I am sure he could have found another weapon to use if he was set on killing his wife.

    The fact that he asked where everyone slept in the house 3 days prior to the murders, is a huge indicator to me, that he premeditated the whole thing. He had a hiding place already picked out for the murder weapon and his alibi in place. Although, his alibi was rather pathetic since I don’t know of anybody who goes shopping for vehicles in the middle of the night. And of course, he was alone with nobody to verify his story. I am sure the reason no CCTV was produced is because his alibi is a big fat lie and there isn’t any to be found. It is very appalling that his pitiful alibi was not allowed in court for the jury to hear because the officers failed to read him his Miranda Rights. I have heard of this happening many, many times and you would think the cops would know to do this automatically, without fail. It should be almost like a robotic type of step for them. I would really like to know how many times the Prosecution has taken a blow to their case due to this technicality. It is just mind boggling that the US Court System failed to prosecute him so many times. And even though I believe the Army failed to properly get him the help he needed to control his temper and his obvious other issues, they at least took matters into their own hands and were able to successfully prosecute him and he is now spending the rest of his life (hopefully) in Military Prison.

    This is unfortunately, the type of case we hear about over and over again. An almost typical case of extreme domestic violence where someone gets the mind-set that if they cannot have their significant other, no one else will either. Very sad. There is another episode of 48 Hours called "Loved to Death" and the topic is "Breakup Violence" and research has shown that exiting a relationship that has a history of domestic violence is the most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim. Statistics show that about 4000 women die each year in the United States from Domestic Violence. Here is an article that gives good information on what steps a woman should take when she is ready to leave an abusive relationship: http://www.womenslaw.org/laws_state_type.php?id=13422&state_code=PG

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  2. Being a woman, I know going through a divorce is very painful. When going through a divorce, you say a lot of things that you never mean. I said numerous times, " I'm going to kill him", but never meant that I was going to do it or wanting it done. I know that sleep just doesn't come some nights and you get out and do SOMETHING, just to be able to survive.

    Saying all of this, I could see myself going truck shopping at night. I've actually done it a time or two. And about wanting to know where everyone sleeps at a new residence where my kids are living, I would want to know that also.

    I don't know for sure if Brent did this or not, but I see NO WAY he should have been convicted. Kids were coached, other person admitted to the crime, 4 mistrials, state police collaborating with military, no evidence, no witnesses and just an overall quest to convict this one man.

    I see it as Brent being railroaded. I would like to see someone try to help this man.

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    Replies
    1. I'm just curious how you would explain the crime of double murder with any other perp than the husband. There was nothing stolen. No sexual assault. It is clearly only an execution of two adult women. How do you explain that?

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