Defense seeks to remove counts in Austin Burke murder trial

Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith Austin T. Burke, 19, of Bristol, was in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on Monday, the first day of his murder and aggravated robbery trial. He is accused of killing a Warren man and robbing a pizza parlor in Cortland at gunpoint in June.

WARREN — Attorneys for accused murderer Austin T. Burke on Monday, the first day of his murder trial, asked the court to separate the two counts of weapons under disability he faces from the rest of the charges against him.

His attorneys, Edward Hartwig and Bradley G. Olson Jr., argue the jury may be prejudiced against Burke because they will know he had a prior conviction as a juvenile that would be evidenced by the weapons charge.

Severing the charge “will not impact judicial resources and will not alter the presentation of the state’s case,” the motion they filed states. A similar motion was filed in November.

Also Monday, a jury of four women and eight men, plus two alternates were seated in the case against Burke, 19, 5106 Miller South Road, Bristol, who also faces charges of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of tampering with evidence.

He is accused of killing Brandon Sample, 22, of Warren, who was found shot once in the head June 15 in a wooded area off Peck Leach Road in Bristol and then robbing at gunpoint the Pizza Joe’s in Cortland on June 20.

Opening arguments are expected to be given this afternoon.

The aggravated murder and two aggravated robbery charges also have firearm a specification, which means, if Burke is convicted of those charges, there will be a mandatory three-year sentence added that must be served before any other sentence is served.

Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker read the jury a possible list of 17 witnesses, not including law enforcement personnel, who may be called to testify during the trial to make sure the jurors did not know them. Becker said he believes the trial will continue at least through Friday.

The attorneys questioned potential jurors about their knowledge of tattoos and whether a person or persons having tattoos would affect their ability to give them a fair trial.

In previous maneuvering, Olson argued the aggravated murder charge should be dismissed because the state cannot prove the crime was committed in Trumbull County. He pointed to an autopsy report that listed the location of Sample’s death as unknown.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew D. Logan, who is presiding over the case, said the issue will be decided during trial.

Logan also blocked a defense attempt to prevent prosecutors from calling the mother of Burke’s girlfriend, who supplied authorities with videos and photos of Burke firing a gun, to testify.

Becker said Burke told witnesses he shot Sample. He also said Burke led authorities to Sample’s body.