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In a packed courtroom, families of two women slain in a Rineyville home and the family of the man accused in their deaths waited for a ruling regarding dismissal of the charges.
Judge Kelly Mark Easton said they’ll have to wait a few more days while he determines if Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Shaw consulted families before filing a motion to dismiss charges filed against Burke.
“This is obviously an extremely important issue to everyone,” Easton said. “I don’t want to make a rash decision.”
Burke is accused of killing his estranged wife, Tracy Burke, and her former mother-in-law, Karen Comer, on Sept. 11, 2007, in a house where three children were left with the bodies.
Shaw has attempted to prosecute Burke four times, the first two ending in mistrial and the most recent two in hung juries. He said without any new, significant evidence, it is unlikely a third trial will produce different results.
Attorney Jeremy Aldridge, on behalf of the victims’ families, filed to block Shaw’s motion and request the prosecutor be removed from the case.
Aldridge said victims’ families say Shaw did not consult them before filing a motion for dismissal of charges.
“The victims have rights,” Aldridge said. “They are required to be consulted and that hasn’t happened.”
Shaw notified family members of his intentions to dismiss Burke’s charges by letter one week ago. According to Aldridge’s motion, that was the first time families knew Shaw intended to file a motion to dismiss the charges.
Shaw refused to discuss the matter with the family, but he agreed to meet one family member Tuesday four hours prior to the scheduled court date and several days after the dismissal motion was filed, according to Aldridge’s opposition.
“In my opinion, consultation cannot be done after the fact,” he said in the courtroom.
According to Aldridge’s opposition, this is a violation of Kentucky Revised Statute 421.500(6), which states, “the victim shall be consulted by the attorney for the commonwealth on the disposition of the case, including dismissal.”
Shaw said he has carried on conversations with family members throughout the four-year process. Immediately following the end of the most recent trial in April, he told family members it was unlikely a third trial would yield different results without new evidence.
In court Tuesday, Shaw said Vanessa Pete, stepmother of Tracy Burke’s oldest son, approached him after the most recent hung jury and said both she and her stepson, who has testified in court against Burke twice, would not endure a third trial resulting in a hung jury.
However, Pete said she told Shaw differently.
“My statement to him before the last trial was, ‘Please get this right. We don’t want to have to drag the boys through this again,”’ she said. “I didn’t say we wouldn’t. I said I don’t want to. I didn’t want to bring him the first time or the second time.”
In response to Aldridge, Shaw said the statute does not say the attorney and family must reach an agreement, to which Easton agreed.
“No, the statute does not say ‘agreement,’” Easton said. “An attorney would not get the job done if he had to reach an agreement in every case.”
Because Easton did not receive Aldridge’s motion until 30 minutes before the motion hearing, he decided to delay ruling on the dismissal to determine if consultation between Shaw and the families occurred.
“It’s not your typical motion,” he said. “It requires a lot of thought.”
Easton requested the victims’ families submit written statements to determine if consultation occurred.
Statements are to be submitted to Easton by Friday. He said he will begin reviewing the statements Monday and expects to make a decision within a matter of days.
Pete is satisfied with Easton’s approach to the decision-making process and she plans to submit a statement to the judge, she said.
“Consultation did not occur,” Pete said. “It’s not whether or not I believe it occurred. It did not occur.”
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.