SAN ANTONIO — There was dead silence in the 290th District Court as a Bexar County jury announced they’d found Beaumont Police Officer David Todd Burke guilty of official oppression in connection with using his baton 13 times against Derrick Newman on Aug. 24, 2007.
The jury had deliberated for slightly over an hour. During Burke’s first trial in April, a Jefferson County jury deliberated about six hours before announcing they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
The silence continued for about 10 minutes as the spectators, including Newman himself and several Beaumont police officers, waited for state District Judge Layne Walker of Jefferson County to come back from his chambers with the attorneys to announce his sentence — 90 days confinement in county jail (suspended), with a one-year probation, a $350 fine and 80 hours of community service.
During the wait, Burke, who gave no reaction as the verdict was read, hugged his wife.
Burke could have faced up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine for the Class A misdemeanor. Walker reminded him that he has a right to appeal. Joseph “Lum” Hawthorn, Burke’s lead defense attorney, later told reporters that they have not yet discussed whether to appeal.
Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ed Shettle said he wasn’t sure how the sentence would affect Burke’s peace officer’s certification.
“I’m pleased with the outcome,” Newman said, calling the six-person jury’s verdict was “an example of blind justice.” He said he felt Walker’s sentence was fair “considering the charge” but that “it could have been stiffer.”
Burke, who left the courthouse with his wife, gave no statements; nor did any of the other officers, who appeared shocked by the verdict.
Hawthorn, who tried the case with his son Zack as co-counsel, said that they and Burke respected the jury’s verdict.
“I think we had a fair trial,” Hawthorn said. “We’ll live with (the verdict), and Todd will live with it.”
He praised Walker’s decision to move the second trial to Bexar County, saying it was a “good move” that helped alleviate some of the turmoil of the earlier one in Walker’s 252nd District Court in Beaumont.
Shettle also praised Walker’s decision, saying the new setting “gave us more focus and less animosity from the community.”
Shettle said and fellow prosecutor Pat Knauth were pleased with the outcome, even though “This is something we didn’t want to have to do.”
“We think the citizens of Jefferson County will be well-served by this verdict,” he said. He added that he thought Walker’ssentence was fair, considering Burke is a 17-year veteran of the Beaumont police force with no prior criminal record.
UPDATE: On Oct. 12, Burke, who has resigned from the department, filed notice of appeal of his conviction. On Aug. 24, 2011, the Ninth Court of Appeals upheld Burke’s conviction. On September 20, Burke appealed that ruling to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the case on March 21, 2012. On June 27, 2012, the appeals court ruled that because Walker failed to grant a defense motion to strike for cause a potential juror who had expressed doubts about being impartial, Burke should receive a new trial.
On the final two days of 2014, after Newman signed an affidavit stating he did not want to continue with the criminal complaints, Jefferson County prosecutors dismissed the official oppression charges against Burke. As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Burke stipulated that he would not seek employment as a peace officer in Texas for ten years.
Find links to full coverage of the trial here.
Copyright © 2010 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.