Originally created 07/31/98

Rebuts criticism in Burton case 073198 - The Augusta Chronicle



Upon reading the July 29 letter by Bessie Edwards, I was shocked and disappointed to see criticism of the Augusta district attorney's office regarding the death of Fred Burton. While I sympathize with the writer's suffering over the loss of her son, the extremely inaccurate and unfair accusations must be clarified.

Around midnight on April 13, 1997, Fred Burton was killed as a participant in a gunfight between two gangs. Mr. Burton carried two pistols and may have initiated the confrontation. Mr. Burton's weapons were unregistered; he was underage and unlicensed to carry any handgun. In the weeks prior to the gunfight, the Sheriff's Department suspected that Mr. Burton was responsible for the murder of another young man, Robert Law. Interestingly, scientific tests revealed that the bullets which killed Mr. Law came from one of Mr. Burton's handguns. Eventually, Gregory Gordon was indicted by the grand jury for voluntary manslaughter for his involvement in the gunfight.

Earlier on April 13, Mr. Burton was removed from Ryan's Steak House for screaming and cursing. When asked to leave -- he threatened to kill the manager. ...

Mr. Burton's association with gang activity was also evidenced by the words "Mob" tattooed on his chest, "Captain Dick" tattooed on his arm, and "Pimp" tattooed in large lettering on his stomach. In addition, Mr. Burton's associates tampered with evidence at the crime. For instance, one associate threw one of Mr. Burton's two handguns into the nearby woods to minimize their involvement. These same associates later identified Mr. Gordon as involved in the gunfight. None of these facts appeared in Ms. Edwards' letter.

Even more regrettable than the factual omissions are Ms. Edwards' assertions that our office failed to contact her. We steadily and conscientiously communicated with her regarding the case's developments. For example, I met with Ms. Edwards for over an hour, outlining facts surrounding the shooting, the criminal procedure and the likelihood of a plea agreement to end the cycle of violence. Our victim's assistance office kept in constant contact with Ms. Edwards, calling her home no fewer than 14 times to update her on all significant developments -- including sentencing. After reading Ms. Edwards' letter, one of the victim's assistance case workers said that Ms. Edwards' complaint about a lack of notice, "blew her mind." The district attorney, Danny Craig, met with the defense lawyer and me.

After the intensive review of the facts, our office decided we would not oppose a five-year sentence where the defendant would begin to serve his five year sentence in the state Detention Center. Finally, Mr. Craig went to the mother's residence to allow her to review the file and to respond to any of her questions. Despite these efforts, Ms. Edwards never took the personal initiative to call me or even come to the sentencing. ...

William Fleming, Augusta

(Editor's note: The writer is an assistant district attorney with the Augusta Judicial Circuit.)