Local News

Surprise Witness at Burmeister Trial

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com
Wright's spider web tattoo
FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — For the first time in the trial of a former soldier accused in a double murder, all threesuspects were in the courtroom together. As Randy Meadows testified,prosecutors brought Malcolm Wright into the room as "evidence". Theywanted to present Wright's spider web tattoo in court and have Meadowstestify about its significance.

As Meadows testified Thursday, his story about the night of the crimeunfolded. According to that testimony, James Burmeister and Wright, bothwhite, wanted to attackblacks and were looking for victims the night that a black man and womanwere shot to death. Meadows has admitted to driving the car that night.

Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, Randy Meadows testified thatheheard gunshots after he let murder defendants James Burmeister andMalcolm Wright out of the car on the night of Dec. 6, 1995.

Jackie Burden, 22, and Michael James, 36, were killed bygunshots to the head just after midnight Dec. 7, 1995. Meadows wasarrested at the scene and charged with conspiracy after he returnedto the dirt street to check on his friends.

The soldiers, all white, have been discharged from the Army.

As they drove around that night, Meadows said Burmeister andWright drank beer and talked about their dislike for black people.At one point, Burmeister pointed his finger like a pistol at blackson the street and said ``die'' as they drove around looking forvictims, Meadows said.

At the death scene, Meadows said, the other two soldiers tookoff their jackets, wallets and jewelry to avoid identification ifthey were caught. Burmeister tucked a 9 millimeter pistol into hisbelt as he got out of Meadows' car.

``I heard gunshots,'' Meadows testified. He left the street,then came back to check on his friends and was taken into custodyby police.

Burmeister and Meadows had seen Wright's spider web tattooearlier that day and Wright told them it meant the wearer hadkilled a black in some skinhead groups.

Meadows, on the witness stand, testified about Burmeister's descriptionof the tattoo's meaning.

Meadowsalready has told the seven-man, five-woman jury that Burmeistertold him he was a skinhead and hated blacks and other minorities.Thursday, he said Burmeister laughed about earning his tattoo as he gotout of the car on the night of the crimes.

Meadows also testified that a month before the shootingsBurmeister made a bomb to prepare for ``a racial holy war.''

The defendant talked about blowing up a Jewish synagogue,Meadows said, and even looked in a telephone book for an address.The conversation took place in Meadows' and Burmeister's barracksin the 82nd Airborne Division area of Fort Bragg.

Meadows also said in the month before the killings, he droveBurmeister from a room he rented off base to a barracks room whereskinheads were creating a formal structure.

Burmeister, 21, of Thompson, Pa., is charged with two counts offirst-degree murder.

Meadows, 22, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder fordriving the car. He accepted a plea agreement to a lesser chargeand agreed to testify against Burmeister and Wright, 22, anotherextremist who was in the elite airborne division. Wright is chargedwith murder and is scheduled to be tried in March.

Both Burmeister and Wright face a death sentence if convicted.

Before the testimony started, defense lawyers objected toevidence about racial attitudes and hate symbols.

Superior Court Judge Coy Brewer Jr. allowed prosecutors topresent the evidence. He said he would consider a mistrial motionof prosecutors failed to prove their theory that racial hatred ledto the killings.

Defense lawyer Larry McGlothlin said prosecution evidence aboutextremist attitudes - including hate songs and Nazi flags - hadnothing to do with the killings.

``Somewhere along the line, the state's theory has to recognizewe have a constitution that allows people to believe what they wantto believe,'' McGlothlin argued. ``...A flag from Germany has nobearing whatsoever other than to inflame the jury.''

But District Attorney Ed Grannis said the racist attitudes andsymbols were the reason for the killings of two people who werejust walking along the street when they were executed with shots tothe head.

``This individual had an obsession about killing blacks,''Grannis said. ``He was seeking blacks in an isolated area that hecould assault or kill and that is exactly what he did. He went outand hunted down blacks because of his personal hatred towardthem.''

By ESTES THOMPSON,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1997 AssociatedPress. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,rewritten, or distributed.