Military sets trial date for Brent Burke

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Court martial scheduled for Feb. 6

By Sarah Bennett

The U.S. Army has set a 2012 trial date in the case against Sgt. Brent Burke after an investigating officer referred his charges to a general court-martial, the most serious level of military courts, Fort Campbell officials announced Wednesday.

This news comes more than three weeks after Burke’s second Article 32 hearing in October, which was heard by investigating officer Maj. Jenny Hamby. The Army has scheduled a Feb. 6 trial date.

According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an Article 32 hearing is an impartial investigation into charges, and the defense may request a new hearing at any point up to the beginning of trial.

Hamby is the second investigating officer to refer Burke’s charges to a general court-martial, which consists of a judge, trial counsel, defense counsel and at least five court members.

Burke is accused of shooting his estranged wife, Tracy Burke, and her former mother-in-law, Karen Comer, on Sept. 11, 2007, at Comer’s Rineyville home in the presence of three young children.

After four mistrials in Hardin Circuit Court, Burke was dismissed of charges without prejudice and released June 29 to Fort Campbell officials. Two weeks later, the U.S. Army began its own investigation, and on July 8, Burke again found himself behind bars.

According to a Fort Campbell news release, the Army has charged him with murder and burglary.

On the charge of murder, Burke is accused of “premeditated design to kill” and “engaged in the perpetration of burglary, sodomy, rape, robbery or aggravated arson,” according to the release.

Under the UCMJ, if the accused is found guilty of one or both of these charges, the punishment is death or life imprisonment as directed by the court martial.

During the Oct. 14 Article 32 hearing, two new witnesses — Capt. Jason Joynes and Col. David Thompson — testified in the case and shed light on the Army’s decision to prefer charges against Burke.

Joynes, a member of Fort Campbell’s military police, investigated Burke’s case before the sergeant was charged. At the hearing, he testified one of the factors in his decision was the result of a jury trial that ended in March in Hardin County.
The jury was split with eight in favor of conviction and four in favor of acquittal. Though an 8-4 decision is a hung jury in a civilian case, it counts as a conviction in the military.

However, while Joynes was investigating the case, the military was preparing Burke to be processed out of the Army, said Thompson, commander of the 716th Military Police Battalion at the post.

Before the process was complete, Thompson said he learned of Joynes’ investigation.

“I told (Joynes) whatever he felt was right was what he needed to do,” the commander said during the Article 32 hearing. “He briefed me that he was comfortable preferring charges.”

Burke has been lodged at the Christian County Detection Center without bond since July 8. He has spent the majority of the last four years in jail.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.