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By Benjamin Joubert
For The News-Enterprise
Detectives described a bloody and violent crime scene as witnesses for the prosecution took the stand Wednesday during the second day of Brent Burke’s court martial at Fort Campbell.
During their opening statement, the prosecution said Burke killed his estranged wife, Tracy Burke, and her former mother-in-law, Karen Comer, because he was upset he was going to lose his children in a divorce.
Most of the morning’s testimony was devoted to questioning Kentucky State Police Detective Matthew Johnson. Explaining a graphic video of the crime scene that only jurors could see on personal monitors, Johnson testified that the shootings took place at Comer’s home in a Rineyville subdivision. A dog was shot at the entrance to a doorway and died on a welcome mat.
The back door to the home was forced open, the deadbolt lock breaking through the door-frame and Karen Comer was shot twice — once in the abdomen and once in the chest, puncturing both of her lungs, he said. She fell backward, striking her head on a container of soda.
A Jefferson County coroner testified Karen Comer had a bruise on her face that could have been caused from a door swinging open and hitting her.
Tracy Burke was in a back bedroom. Police found her lying on her right side, body bowed over in a partial fetal position. She was shot in the arm and the back of the head with the bullet exiting above her left eyebrow.
From there, police gathered evidence including bullet fragments, cellphones and wet towels found in separate sinks.
In their cross-examination, defense attorneys pushed detectives on the accuracy of their Sept. 12, 2007, crime scene evaluation.
Johnson’s handling of Tracy Burke’s cellphone could have disrupted some evidence, Burke’s co-counsel John Shaughnessy argued. Johnson didn’t take pictures of any of the text messages on Tracy Burke’s phone. He also opened some unopened text messages in the phone in an attempt to find potential suspects, making it unclear what messages were read before Johnson opened the phone, the defense argued.
Also, five additional shell casings were found by a cleaning crew the day after KSP’s investigation at the home. Shells were found on the back patio and inside the home tucked between bedsheets. Most of the shells were from the same manufacturer and were fired from a 9mm handgun. One shell matching the bullet that entered Tracy Burke’s skull was from a different manufacturer, Johnson testified.
“I’m not sure how we missed the shell casings that night,” Johnson said.
Kyle Brown, a cleaner who found some of the shells while sweeping, said the shells found in the bedroom were tucked beneath the folds of a comforter.
“You did better work than the detectives didn’t you?” Burke’s civilian attorney William Carter said.
Brown responded that he didn’t know if he did or not.
“You found things that they didn’t,” Carter said.
The defense also asked Johnson if Burke initially was the only suspect in the case. There was one other suspect, an “apparent boyfriend,” Johnson said. A shirt and towel found in a nearby lake that were lab tested, were connected to the other suspect, he said.
In other witness testimony, Kurt Comer, husband of Karen Comer, talked about his relationship with Tracy Burke. In a slow southern drawl, he told the jury that he and Karen Comer had been married for more than 24 years and that he frequently was absent from the home because of his job as a truck driver.
Tracy Burke previously was married to their son, but maintained a good relationship with the Comers and frequently visited with her young children, Kurt Comer said. Brent Burke would visit the home around once a month to pick up the grandchildren, he added.
Tracy Burke and Karen Comer were shot and killed in Rineyville on Sept. 11, 2007. Burke initially was charged in a civilian court, but after four mistrials, the case against him was dropped without prejudice. Shortly after, Burke was charged with the same crime under military law.
Witness testimony is scheduled to continue today.
Benjamin Joubert can be reached at (270) 887-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.