HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The capital murder trial of Richard Burgin opened Wednesday morning with the prosecution telling jurors that four key pieces of evidence link Burgin to the May 2013 murders of two elderly brothers at West Huntsville United Methodist Church.
The defense used its opening statement to urge jurors to consider the lack of evidence in the state’s case against Burgin.
Burgin, 53, could face the death penalty if convicted in the stabbing deaths of Anthony and Terry Jackson.
Madison County Assistant District Attorney Randy Dill said in his opening statement that a police K-9 followed a scent from the church and located, not far from the church, a plastic cup that had Burgin’s DNA on it, a towel with Terry Jackson’s blood, a bulletin from the church with Burgin’s fingerprints and a knife stained with the blood of both brothers.
Burgin was arrested several months after the killings. Prosecutors say his DNA found on the cup matched his DNA sample contained in a database.
The prosecution’s first witness was James Alexander, who testified he lived on 9th Avenue at the time of the killings, directly across the street from the church.
Alexander testified he and his wife were sitting on their porch, with his chair facing the church, on the morning of May 21, 2013. He said he saw a black male go to the side door of the church and knock. One of the brothers opened the door and let the man inside.
Alexander said the man was only inside for a few minutes before he came back out, carrying a “Red solo cup” with a folded-up paper in his other hand. Alexander testified the man turned and glared at him and his wife, before hurrying off in the other direction toward 8th Avenue.
Alexander wasn’t asked if Burgin was the man he saw and he never identified Burgin during his testimony.
Defense attorney Chad Morgan argued the prosecution’s case was based on getting jurors to infer that Burgin was guilty and there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove his guilt.
The crime scene included a lot of spilled blood, Morgan noted, but no blood was on the church bulletin found by the K-9. Burgin’s DNA wasn’t on the knife or the bloody towel, Morgan said, questioning how cross-contamination didn’t occur given the allegation against Burgin.
The items were located by the K-9 unit’s dog “Boone.” His then-handler Cory Upton, now the K-9 unit’s head trainer, explained the dogs go through rigorous and regular training and have been certified by independent judges.
He said Boone followed a scent from the church and eventually ended up at near a home on 8th Avenue where he first lighted on a cup, then located the towel and bulletin tucked down into some bushes.
The dog continued to follow the trail down the street, through an alley and all the way to Seminole Drive and Governors Drive, before losing the trail. They walked back to the scene, the dog then located the knife in a bush near where the cup was found, Upton testified.
Jacqueline Cobb, who was the director of the church food bank, also testified. She said the brothers, who were in their 70s when they were killed, were almost always together and that Terry began taking care of Anthony after their mother died years ago.
She said Terry managed the food bank and Anthony helped get the church’s fellowship hall ready for the food bank opening each week.
She said on the day they were killed, she pulled up to the church and honked, like she normally did, but Terry didn’t come out to help her get the food she had in the trunk.
Cobb testified she went inside and found a bloodied Terry on his back. She asked him what happened, and he could only manage, “Stabbing,” over and over. She asked about Anthony and Terry pointed her to where his brother was, also on his back, not breathing.
She called 911 and Terry died in the emergency room.
The case before Circuit Judge Karen Hall is expected to run into next week.