Madison County judge to decide if Huntsville church pantry killer will get death penalty or life in prison

Richard Burgin listens to testimony during his capital murder trial, at the Madison County Courthouse, May 3, 2017. (Gregg Stone/WHNT News 19)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Madison County Circuit Judge Karen Hall will decide today if Richard Burgin will be given the death penalty, or life in prison without parole, for the May 2013 killings of two elderly brothers working in a Huntsville church food bank.

The sentencing hearing is set to begin at 1:30 p.m.

Burgin, 54, was convicted of capital murder in May 2017 of fatally stabbing Anthony and Terry Jackson at the West Huntsville United Methodist Church food bank. A capital murder conviction carries one of two possible sentences, life in prison with no parole or the death penalty.

The jury deliberated about an hour before recommending life in prison for Burgin, by an 8-4 vote.

But in a wrinkle in Alabama law, Judge Hall gets the last word on sentencing. The Alabama Legislature this year ended the longstanding practice of so-called “judicial override.” That’s where the jury makes a sentencing recommendation in capital murder cases, but the judge gets the last word.

The Alabama Legislature voted to end the practice, but also said the ban wasn’t “retroactive,” meaning cases that began before the law was changed – like Burgin’s – still operate under the judicial override model.

Defense attorneys Larry Marsili and Chad Morgan are expected to renew their objections to the sentencing model.

The case is being prosecuted by Tim Gann, chief trial attorney for the Madison County’s District Attorney’s Office and Assistant DA Randy Dill.

The prosecution had urged jurors to sentence Burgin to die, arguing the brothers’ deaths included multiple stab wounds and suffering before they died. Prosecutors said the two men were killed in a robbery attempt that yielded, at most, a wallet and a cell phone.

There were no witnesses to the killing of the Jackson brothers. The prosecution’s case hinged on a handful of items found in bushes by a police K-9 unit, a short distance from the church.

The defense argued the items that were linked to Burgin — his fingerprints were found on a church bulletin and his DNA was on a red plastic cup – weren’t linked to the knife or a bloody towel found in the bushes by the K-9.  The knife and towel had victim’s blood on it, but no DNA from Burgin.