Even her death, however, didn’t stop Corey Smith from mutilating the body of the 54-year-old woman and cracking her spine, Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus told jurors in the opening statements of Smith’s murder trial Monday.
Fogus spent more than an hour Monday re-creating the four days between the Sunday night Burley was seen walking away with Smith to the discovery of her decomposing body three days later on Wednesday night.
Neighbors and loved ones panicked when she couldn’t be found Monday morning because “Pat,” as she was known, had Down syndrome and didn’t usually wander far.
“Everybody knows Pat, everybody loves Pat,” Fogus said. Disappearing was unlike her, so “everyone knew something was terribly wrong.”
Witnesses called to the stand Monday came and went quickly, and their testimony gave a general picture of Burley and her disappearance. It also gave circumstantial evidence implicating Smith, 30.
David Berrian said he was on a front porch that Sunday night, not far from Burley’s house on Laney-Walker Boulevard, when he saw Smith and Burley emerge from a wooded path. It was brief, but memorable, because Berrian knew Burley wasn’t normally out in the neighborhood that late at night.
Berrian told Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine he regrets not having intervened that night.
“It’s on my conscience to this day,” he said.
When Burley didn’t turn up by Tuesday, law enforcement increased the number of deputies involved in the manhunt.
Smith was taken in for questioning that same day after several witnesses named him as the last person seen with Burley. He was charged with simple assault in the criminal investigation division after he threatened Investigator Mark Dobbins, Fogus said.
Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Burley was found dead in a wooded lot, face down on a couch, almost completely naked. Fogus said her DNA was found later in Smith’s underwear.
She was bound three ways: with her shirt, a lavender blouse worn to church Sunday; rope; and boot laces. Her body bore signs of abuse and an autopsy showed she was beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated three ways: with a ligature, manually and with paper towels stuffed down her throat. Nearby was a tall, plastic trash can that was used to move her body, Fogus said.
Smith is also indicted in the attack of another woman – also older and of diminished mental capacity – four months before the attack on Burley. That woman survived, but her attack bore similar traits to Burley’s, Fogus said.
“This trial is about the truth, and it’s going to show beyond a reasonable doubt this man targets helpless women, gets them alone, then he tortures them,” he said.
Smith’s attorney, Penelope Donkar, spent no more than two minutes on her statement.
She asked jurors to keep an open mind and listen to the facts.
“What I ask you is not to be distracted by shock value,” Donkar said.