Entries in Army Sgt. Brent Burke (1)


Military Hearing Arranged for Soldier after Four Inconclusive Trials

Comstock/Thinkstock(RINEYVILLE, Ky.) -- Prosecutors have been unable to convict Army Sgt. Brent Burke of a double murder in four civilian trials and have decided to not try him again. But Burke now faces the likelihood of a military trial in which a unanimous jury is not necessary to find him guilty.

After two hung juries and two dismissed mistrials, the case has been turned over to the military where only two-thirds of the jury would have to believe him guilty in order to convict him.

"I wouldn't say it's common," said Victor Hansen, a professor of law at New England Law and a retired Army lawyer, referring to the military trying a soldier for a crime that was previously tried in a civilian court.

Burke was charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of his estranged wife, Tracy Burke, and her former mother-in-law from a previous marriage, Karen Comer. The two women were found shot dead on Sept. 11, 2007 in Comer's Rineyville, Ky., home when one of three children at the house called police.

In June, after another mistrial, charges against Burke were dropped.

Less than two weeks later, the military charged Burke with two counts of premeditated murder. There is no issue of double jeopardy between a civilian court and a military court.

As a soldier, Burke is expected to conduct himself under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the military's set of laws and ethics.

The process begins with an Article 32 hearing that started Thursday and is expected to wrap up quickly, as soon as Friday. This investigative hearing is similar to a mini-grand jury hearing. Witnesses are brought in and questioned and both the accused and the defense attorney are present.

A decision is expected next week as to whether the case will be tried in front of a general court martial where the death penalty or life in prison are possible punishments if Burke is convicted.

Under military law, Burke is liable for the death penalty if convicted. While Burke can be convicted of murder by two-thirds of the jury, the jury would have to be unanimous for him to be sentenced to death. It would also require a second unanimous vote by the jury to condemn him to death.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio