Originally created 04/24/04

Attorney to seek death penalty



Tamara Dunstan's death was so vile and heinous that District Attorney Danny Craig wants Ronald Francis Burke executed, court records state.

Mr. Craig has filed notice that he intends to seek the death penalty against Mr. Burke, 25, who is accused of kidnapping, assaulting and killing Mrs. Dunstan last week.

Mr. Burke is charged with felony and malice murder in the deaths of both Mrs. Dunstan and her unborn child.

He also is charged with kidnapping, robbery and burglary, court records state.

The notice starts a special process the state mandates for defendants whom prosecutors want executed by the state.

Mr. Craig said a judge for the required hearings, known as the unified appeals process, will be appointed by Superior Court Judge William M. Fleming Jr. to handle the case from pretrial motions all the way through trial.

The unified appeals process creates a standard way for courts to handle arraignments, motions that deal with what evidence can be presented, other motions on legal issues and setting down a timetable for trial, Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Burke originally was scheduled to have a bond hearing in front of Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown on Friday.

The hearing was cancelled because of the filing.

Mr. Craig said bond for Mr. Burke will be addressed later in the process.

Peter Johnson, the court-appointed attorney representing Mr. Burke, declined to comment about Mr. Craig's intention to seek the death penalty against his client.

"I've been talking to everybody all day, and I'd rather not comment," Mr. Johnson said.

"To me, it's just a tragic, tragic occurrence," he said.

The state sets certain requirements in order to impose the death penalty.

One of the "statutory aggravating circumstances" that Mr. Craig cites in his notice include the nature of the crime.

Mrs. Dunstan's death was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture or depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim," the document states.

Other aggravating circumstances cited leading to imposition of the death penalty include allegations that Mr. Burke committed two other felonies - burglary and kidnapping - before Mrs. Dunstan's death.

The final aggravating circumstance lists the killing of Mrs. Dunstan's unborn child because she was three months pregnant when she died.

Mr. Craig said the average time for death penalty cases to come to trial is 18 to 19 months from the commission of the crime, but in some cases, such as that of Reinaldo Rivera, who was sentenced to die earlier this year, it may take as long as three years to get to trial.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.