Originally created 03/02/05

Burke receives feticide charge



Less than two weeks before his trial, the man accused of killing Tamara Dunstan and her unborn child was reindicted Tuesday.

The Richmond County grand jury indictment was a formality in Ronald F. Burke's death-penalty case. The only change is the charge he faces in the death of the unborn child - feticide instead of murder.

Mr. Burke, 26, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the April 15 death of Mrs. Dunstan, 29. Her apparent abduction sparked a massive search that attracted national media attention. It ended with the discovery of her body in a shallow grave three days later.

Tuesday's hearing was scheduled for attorneys to discuss victim-impact statements. Such statements may be read to the jury if Mr. Burke is convicted of murder and the trial proceeds to the punishment phase.

Peter Johnson, who along with Robert Westin is representing Mr. Burke, insisted he needed more than 30 minutes to review and prepare to challenge a dozen victim-impact statements prepared by Mrs. Dunstan's family and friends.

After District Attorney Danny Craig narrowed the statements to three, the defense team was given several hours to review the statements and make any objection. Both sides agreed to strike some portions of the statement submitted by Mrs. Dunstan's husband.

Tuesday's reindictment resulted from a defense challenge to the murder charges filed against Mr. Burke in the death of Mrs. Dunstan's unborn child. On Thurs- day, Judge Pickett agreed that murder was an improper charge. That ruling necessitated Tuesday's re-indictment.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.