Testimony begins in murder trial

Witnesses say Burke admitted involvement

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Meredith Loges, 18, girlfriend of murder defendant Austin Burke, 19, of Bristol, identifies Burke during her testimony Tuesday afternoon in the courtroom of Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan. Burke is accused in the murder of Brandon Sample last summer.

WARREN — Several acquaintances of Austin Taylor Burke testified Tuesday that he told them he killed Warren resident Brandon Sample on the morning of June 12 , 2017.

Burke, 19, 5106 Miller South Road, Bristol, is on trial on charges of aggravated murder, two robbery counts, tampering with evidence and two counts of having weapons under disability. Each of the murder and robbery charges have additional gun specification charges, which will add an additional three years imprisonment if he is convicted.

Josh White, who now lives in Hubbard, told the court he spent part of June 11, 2017, with Sample cutting his grandmother’s grass and then they went swimming at a friend’s house. Around 11 p..m., White said Sample offered to drive him to his home in Akron. White said Sample was his best friend.

It was while the two were on their way to Akron that Sample said he was going to meet someone who asked him to do something that would get him a lot of money.

“He didn’t say what he was supposed to do,” White said. “That was the last time I talked to Brandon.”

Defense attorney Edward Harwig questioned White about whether he knew Sample used heroin.

“I have never seen him use heroin,” White replied.

White said Burke was not with them during any part of the day.

Sample knew Burke from when he worked at Ohio Department of Youth Services, White said.

Meredith Loges, 18, a student at Miami University and Burke’s girlfriend, testified she previously had seen Burke with a small .22 caliber handgun with a marble handle.

However, when Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker showed her a gun, Loges said she was not sure if it was the same one she had seen on Burke. Loges did, however, identify a photograph of Burke holding a gun, saying she was sure it was him because of the tear and star tattoos on his hand.

When questioned by Defense Attorney Bradley G. Olson, Loges said she met Burke at Believer’s Church about four years ago. However, they did not start dating until the summer of 2017.

“I did not see him with a gun very many times,” she said.

Brittani Merten, 18, who lived in Newton Falls at the time of Sample’s death, also said she saw Burke with a small .22 caliber and another 9 mm gun, about 19 days before he was arrested. He was photographed with the two weapons.

“It was the same night that I met him,” Merten said.

Merten testified receiving a text from Burke on June 12, asking if she had seen a 9 mm clip that he had shown the group of teenagers.

“We could not find it,” she said.

Merten did not see him on June 11 or 12, the day of the shooting.

Nathan Moats, 16, said he saw Burke and Sample after midnight on June 12 at 713 Mason St. During cross examination, Moats described seeing Sample snorting heroin. At about 6 a.m., Moats said Burke returned to the house saying he killed Sample on Hatchet Man Road.

Ricky Roupe, 15, admitted not telling police everything he knew during his first interview with them the morning of June 12 because he was afraid.

“I was worried for my life,” he said. “Austin said he was in a gang. From his look, I believed him.”

Roupe described Burke telling them he had taken Sample to Hatchet Man Road in Bristolville, made him get out of his vehicle, get on his knees and shooting him twice. He then dumped Sample’s white Malibu near the bike trail.

During cross examination, Roupe admitted receiving a text message from Burke, in which Burke wrote: “I ain’t done s**t man.”

When questioned whether he said Sample deserved to die, Roupe said it was a mistake based on what he had been told Sample had done. He was told that Sample had raped a little boy.

“No little boy should have to go through something like that,” he said. “I was wrong.”

Roupe said he decided to tell police investigators the full story, because he was assured he would be protected.

During opening arguments, Olson said the prosecution witnesses testifying against Burke will have significant differences in the stories they tell about the night of the shooting, including who was there.

“Something tragic happened,” Olson said. “They have no evidence that Brandon was with the defendant.”