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Racial Killings

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FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — A judge on Thursdaysentenced ex-paratrooperand racist skinhead James Burmeister II to life in prison for themurders of two black people after a jury deadlocked over hissentence.

Judge Coy Brewer Jr. sentenced Burmeister to two life sentenceswithout parole an hour after the judge disbanded the jury.

``The state has chosen to blame me for this. So be it fornow,''Burmeister spoke before Brewer sentenced him to the consecutivelife terms. ``I'm not conceding. And I'm not going to quit. It'snot over.''

After the sentencing, district attorney Ed Grannis Jr. said:``We're delighted the (S.O.B.) will be put away for life.''

The jurors Thursday afternoon had said they could not break an11-1 impasse over whether to sentence Burmeister to death or lifein prison after 7-1/2 hours of deliberations.

The majority favored the death penalty, but under state law,Brewer had to impose the life sentences because it was notunanimous.

Burmeister, 21, of Thompson, Pa., was convicted last week oftwocounts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy in the1995 shooting deaths of Jackie Burden, 27, and Michael James, 36,on a Fayetteville street.

Testimony showed Burmeister joined a racist skinhead groupafterarriving at Fort Bragg as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.By the time he went hunting black people to kill, Burmeister hadengaged in heavy drinking every day, singing extremist songs andgiving Nazi salutes.

The killings brought a national outcry over racism in themilitary. An internal Army study showed racism wasn't a largeproblem, and 22 soldiers of the more than 40,000 at Fort Bragg werekicked out, sent to trial or punished for racist beliefs.

Brewer also sentenced Burmeister on a conspiracy charge from aminimum of 16 years, 4 months to a maximum of 20 years, 5 months inprison. The time for conspiracy will be tacked on to theconsecutive life sentences.

Burmeister also apologized before the sentencing ``to all ofthefamilies involved. I know this has been a great strain oneverbody.''

But he added: ``A lot of what we saw ... was smoke andmirrors.''

Lillie James, the mother of Michael James, said Burmeister'sapology meant little.

``It's too late for that,'' she said. ``He has a heart as coldas steel.''

Some of the seven men and five women on the jury expresseddisappointment and frustration over the outcome. They said a womanjuror held out against their wish to give Burmeister the deathpenalty.

Jerry Olsen, 61, said that from the very beginning, ``nothingthat the other jurors said made any difference to the personholding out for life imprisonment.

``It was a tug of war from point one,'' he said.

Juror Robby Mareau, 29, of Fayetteville said the 11 jurors whofavored the death penalty wanted to send a message that ``societyis tired of this kind of ignorance.''

``They got pretty lucky,'' he said of Burmeister and hisdefenseteam.

Juror Darcy Day, 28, of Stedman, was in tears. She said thewoman who deadlocked the panel ``didn't really believe in the deathpenalty.''

``It's disappointing to me as a juror that 11 of us agree,''shesaid, ``and what we feel is forfeited because of one person.''

Due to the deadlock, Brewer was required to impose lifesentences for the murder convictions.

The jury foreman announced the deadlock at 3:45 p.m. He toldBrewer the jury split was unchanged from Thursday morning, when itfirst apprised Brewer that it was unable to reach a verdict.

``Do you believe there is any reasonable possibility that withadditional deliberation that this jury will be able to reach aunanimous recommendation?'' Brewer asked the jury.

``We do not,'' the foreman told Brewer.

Brewer declared the jury deadlocked and thanked the jurors fortheir effort. Jury selection started Jan. 21 and opening argumentswere heard Feb. 11. Burmeister is the first of two former FortBragg soldiers to be tried in the deaths. Malcolm Wright, 22, isscheduled for trial March 31.

Prosecutors said the Burmeister case was about evil on a parwith Adolf Hitler. Defense lawyers said there was no proofBurmeister fired the fatal shots on Dec. 7, 1995, and that he wastoo drunk to clearly think about committing the crime.

Deliberations, which began Wednesday, had gone about 5-1/2hourswhen the jury sent out a note Thursday morning saying it had``reached an impasse on both cases regarding a unanimousrecommendation on punishment. We need your guidance.''

Brewer gave the jury a lunch break, then ordered it to continuedeliberations and keep an open mind while listening to their peers.

At that point, defense attorney Larry McGlothlin asked Brewertotake the case away from the jury and impose a life sentence, butthe judge refused.

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

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