Austin Burke found guilty of 2017 Brandon Sample murder
WARREN — Austin T. Burke was found guilty Friday on all charges in connection to the June 12, 2017, murder of Brandon Sample and the armed robbery of a Pizza Joe’s in Cortland a week later.
Burke, 19, of Bristolville, was found guilty by a jury on a charge of aggravated murder and two counts each of robbery and having a weapon under disabillty. He faces 26 years to life in prison when he is sentenced March 27, according to court records.
Burke did not visibly react as the verdicts were read by Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew Logan, but friends and family members of Sample, 22, quietly let out sighs of relief as the judge read the verdict forms. The jury deliberated for approximately four hours Friday before coming back with a verdict in the late afternoon.
Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker credited Warren police detectives John Greaver and Wayne Mackey for their work in finding Sample’s body before it disintegrated or was moved or eaten by animals.
“This was a case that lacked forensics, as far as DNA,” Becker said. “We did not have ballistics. This case was won by the electronics and the cellphone movements.”
The Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation offices did an outstanding job in retrieving the texts and deleted text messages from Burke’s phone, he said.
“These messages clearly implicated the defendant,” Becker said. “In this day and age, people expect DNA and forensic evidence. We replaced the forensics with electronic evidence.”
The prosecutor said the defendant and his girlfriend also assisted in his conviction by taking pictures of him holding and firing what the state believes — but cannot forensically prove — was the murder weapon.
Although the teen witnesses were clearly nervous during the trial, the information they provided led law enforcement directly to the body.
“He told them where the body was,” Becker said. “He told them how he killed the deceased.”
Kenneth Sample, Brandon Sample’s father, said whatever happens to Burke will not bring back his son, but he is grateful for the work by the police and prosecutor’s offices.
“This bring us a little closure,” Kenneth Sample said. “The police and prosecutors stayed in contact with us and did their job great.”
Defense attorney Edward Harwig described the case as difficult and emotional.
“The jury took this case very seriously,” he said.