Local News

Surprise Witness at Burmeister Trial

Posted February 13, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— For the first time in the trial of a former soldier accused in a double murder, all three suspects were in the courtroom together. As Randy Meadows testified, prosecutors brought Malcolm Wright into the room as "evidence". They wanted to present Wright's spider web tattoo in court and have Meadows testify about its significance.

As Meadows testified Thursday, his story about the night of the crime unfolded. According to that testimony, James Burmeister and Wright, both white, wanted to attack blacks and were looking for victims the night that a black man and woman were shot to death. Meadows has admitted to driving the car that night.

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

Jackie Burden, 22, and Michael James, 36, were killed by gunshots to the head just after midnight Dec. 7, 1995. Meadows was arrested at the scene and charged with conspiracy after he returned to 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 and Wright drank beer and talked about their dislike for black people. At one point, Burmeister pointed his finger like a pistol at blacks on the street and said ``die'' as they drove around looking for victims, Meadows said.

At the death scene, Meadows said, the other two soldiers took off their jackets, wallets and jewelry to avoid identification if they were caught. Burmeister tucked a 9 millimeter pistol into his belt 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 custody by police.

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

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

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

Meadows also testified that a month before the shootings Burmeister 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 barracks in the 82nd Airborne Division area of Fort Bragg.

Meadows also said in the month before the killings, he drove Burmeister from a room he rented off base to a barracks room where skinheads were creating a formal structure.

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

Meadows, 22, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder for driving the car. He accepted a plea agreement to a lesser charge and agreed to testify against Burmeister and Wright, 22, another extremist who was in the elite airborne division. Wright is charged with 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 to evidence about racial attitudes and hate symbols.

Superior Court Judge Coy Brewer Jr. allowed prosecutors to present the evidence. He said he would consider a mistrial motion of prosecutors failed to prove their theory that racial hatred led to the killings.

Defense lawyer Larry McGlothlin said prosecution evidence about extremist attitudes - including hate songs and Nazi flags - had nothing to do with the killings.

``Somewhere along the line, the state's theory has to recognize we have a constitution that allows people to believe what they want to believe,'' McGlothlin argued. ``...A flag from Germany has no bearing whatsoever other than to inflame the jury.''

But District Attorney Ed Grannis said the racist attitudes and symbols were the reason for the killings of two people who were just walking along the street when they were executed with shots to the head.

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

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