Local News

Burmeister's Cold Exterior Cracks at Sentencing...

Posted February 28, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The cold, arrogant exterior of a former paratrooper convicted of murdering two black people dissolved into tears Friday as his mother pleaded for his life during a sentencing hearing.

James N. Burmeister, 21, wept quietly at the defense table as his mother, also sobbing at times, told jurors about the life led by ``my baby Jim.''

Jurors convicted Burmeister, a former 82nd Airborne Division soldier, on Thursday of murdering Jackie Burden, 27, and Michael James, 36, shortly after midnight on Dec. 7, 1995.

But Nancy James, Michael James' wife, said during a recess that she thought the Burmeister's tears were genuine.

Now, the jury hears evidence and arguments before deciding, probably next week, whether Burmeister should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole.

``I would just like to say to the families of Jackie and Michael that I am so sorry this ever happened,'' Kathleen Burmeister said from the witness stand. ``I would do anything in my power to bring them back. I apologize.''

Mrs. Burmeister sobbed as she made her final statement to the jury before leaving the witness stand. Her son, seated between two defense lawyers, also wept and wiped his eyes with a white handkerchief.

During the guilt phase of the trial, Burmeister kept a cold and neutral expression on his face and occasionally smirked.

``I had sympathy with her yesterday, but today I felt like it was for show,'' Mrs. James said. ``I do not think her statement was genuine. She had ample opportunity to come to me to apologize and she did not. I was really hurt.''

Mrs. James has three children whom she said are upset that ``their father was taken.''

Defense attorneys argued before the testimony that Burmeister deserved to die because he hunted down the victims and shot them for no reason other than racial hatred. Testimony showed that Burmeister was a self-professed skinhead extremist who listened to racist songs and gave Nazi salutes in the Fort Bragg barracks.

Mrs. Burmeister said her son loved his father, Jim Burmeister Sr. But the father was not liked in Thompson, Pa., a town of 200 north of Scranton, Pa. When her daughter, Lisa, was dying of leukemia, she said, the local rescue squad wouldn't come to the house because of hard feelings with the family.

After the death, she testified, Burmeister was upset and the same year joined the Army, where he joined a group of skinheads after he was disqualified for jump duty in the 82nd because of an ear injury.

She said her husband was opinionated and outspoken and expressed racial and ethnic prejudice, but that he didn't hate minorities.

``He used the n-word'' in front of Burmeister and his adopted brother and two sisters, she said.

Judge Coy Brewer Jr. told jurors that the sentencing phase of the trial would last into next week and that after they heard arguments and evidence they would have to decide the sentence.

In North Carolina, executions are carried out by lethal gas unless the condemned prisoner selects lethal injection.

Prosecutors presented no evidence.

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