Murder trial begins today

Bristol man accused of killing Warren man

WARREN — The trial of Austin Burke, accused of killing a Warren man in June and then robbing at gunpoint a pizza parlor in Cortland a few days later, is expected to begin today.

Jury selection should start in the courtroom of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew D. Logan, followed by a jury view of the location where the body of Brandon Sample, 22, was found off Peck Leach Road in Bristol, then the Pizza Joe’s in Cortland and then the spot in Niles where Sample’s car was found.

Burke, 19, 5106 Miller South Road, Bristol, is charged with aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, tampering with evidence and two counts of having a weapon as a convicted felon.

Sample was found June 15 shot once in the head in a wooded area off Peck Leach Road in Bristol. The armed robbery at Pizza Joe’s in Cortland’s downtown happened on June 20.

Opening arguments in the case will begin after the jury view. Attorneys have presented a list of 18 potential witnesses to testify.

In late January, Logan ruled against defense motions attempting to suppress evidence and dismiss the case because of lack of venue and due process.

At a suppression hearing in December, Burke’s attorney, Bradley G. Olson Jr., argued some of the state’s evidence, including a ballistic report, should be thrown out because prosecutors did not present evidence connecting the gun to any of the crimes.

The defense also wanted to suppress videos taken from the cellphone of Burke’s girlfriend that showed him holding a .22 long rifle semi-automatic pistol, the weapon prosecutors said is the murder weapon.

Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker said Burke told witnesses he shot Sample. Becker also said Burke led authorities to Sample’s body.

Olson had also 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. Logan 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.

Sample’s mother reported him missing June 12 after he did not return home from swimming with a friend the previous day, according to a police report. The mother told police that Sample’s father sent him a text about 4:30 a.m., and he responded he was on his way home, but he never returned. His car was found abandoned in Niles.

One of the aggravated robbery charges, one of the weapons under disability charges and the tampering with evidence charge against Burke are in connection to the robbery of the pizza store.