In eight years on the bench and dozens of murder trials, Superior Court Judge Michael Annis said Friday “I’ve never seen a case that’s as gruesome as this one was.”
Annis was referring to the trial that ended Friday with jurors convicting Corey Smith, 30, for the death of Pat Burley, 18 months after she wandered off from her home on Wrightsboro Road. The verdict and sentence of life in prison without parole capped five days of trial in which jurors viewed graphic pathology photos, heard allegations of necrophilia and witnessed bizarre outbursts from Smith about how “his temperature hurt.”
For the family and friends of Burley, 54, it closed a painful chapter not just in their lives but the neighborhood in which she lived on the 1300 block of Wrightsboro Road. Burley, who had Down syndrome, was a constant fixture in the sanctuary of United House of Prayer and a frequent helper in its kitchen.
“When you took her life like you did, you took something away from us we will never recover,” her cousin, Larry Hobbs, told Smith before sentencing Friday.
While Burley’s life was recounted throughout the trial, Smith’s background is still murky.
Though the district attorney’s office spent months looking into his background, the search yielded little. He told investigators in August 2010 that he was born in Los Angeles. Investigators pieced together he was in New Orleans in the mid-2000s, then Atlanta and finally Augusta around 2007.
“We don’t know where he’s from,” Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine said.
Corey Smith is the name he’s used for his arrests in Augusta, dating back to a shoplifting charge in 2007. The initials “CCD” for Corey Cordell Dennis are tattooed on his wrist. He gave the name “David King” to Waynesboro police when he was arrested for criminal damage to property in 2010. The initials “CMB” were carved into Burley’s left buttock after her death.
Smith was a wanderer and homeless, but he was a familiar face in the south Augusta area. Witnesses said he frequented the soup kitchens and the Salvation Army, occasionally propositioning women to have sex with him in vagrant houses. Between March 29, 2009, and April 2, 2009, an indictment says he assaulted his girlfriend by striking her with teeth, hands, feet and an object not known to the grand jury.
A judge gave him 12 months in jail for criminal attempt to commit aggravated assault, four years probation and “banished” him from the Augusta Judicial Circuit.
At the Burley trial, prosecutors argued that Smith’s brutality toward women was nothing new.
On April 9, 2010, a woman entered Reid’s Community Grocery store at 1338 10th Street to purchase cigarettes. She was a friend of shopkeeper James Reid, who knew that the woman had mental issues, including schizophrenia, but described her in court as a “super person.” On this particular evening, there was another man who came in behind her. He was acting suspicious, avoiding eye contact. Reid slipped his gun into his pocket, fearing he was about to be robbed. It wasn’t until the woman walked out the door with the man that Reid realized they were together. Reid followed them out the door, but didn’t stop them.
Reid’s friend was raped that night. Her neck was cut with a rusty razor; her face smashed repeatedly with a brick. Her sister interrupted the attack when she knocked on the door. Minutes later, a man was seen running from the back door and the victim, who is not being identified by The Augusta Chronicle, wandered outside, naked but for a pair of socks. Her eyes were swollen shut.
A year later Smith would be indicted in the attack after his DNA matched that collected from the victim at the hospital and his fingerprint from the brick found in her home. Prosecutors spent a full day presenting that case to jurors on Thursday to prove what they call a “similar transaction.”
Annis called it a “trial within a trial” that “showed your bent of mind.” Smith has not been tried for that crime.
Juror Rebecca Smith said the jury was “overwhelmingly” leaning toward a guilty verdict from the beginning of deliberations, but they still took four hours between Thursday and Friday to examine all the evidence and judge its veracity. She called the offenses “cruel and despicable” and said the photos and testimony were difficult to absorb.
“It took its toll on the jury,” she said.