Local News

Convicted Killer Refuses

Posted April 22, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— The former soldier convicted killing two black people refused to testify Tuesday during the trial of another ex-paratrooper charged in the same crimes.

James Burmeister, 21, appeared briefly at the trial of Malcolm Wright, 22. Both were charged with first-degree murder in the Dec. 7, 1995, shooting death of Jackie Burden and Michael James in Fayetteville.

When questioned by Superior Court Judge Coy Brewer Jr., Burmeister took the Fifth Amendment.

Attorneys said Burmeister probably refused to testify because of pending appeals of his own case.

``Did Malcolm Wright give you the pistol back and say `I can't do it,''' Burmeister was asked. He refused to answer that and other questions, except his name and other basics.

Burmeister, who testfied outside the jury's presence, then was excused as a witness. Burmeister, who was convicted last month, was sentenced to life in prison.

Earlier, former soldier Randy Meadows testified about event the date of the killing. Jurors were sent home before Burmeister took the stand.

Brewer ruled that Meadows could testify about a spiderweb tattoo on Wright's left arm and that it meant the wearer had killed a black person. Brewer said he would not force Wright to display the tattoo as he did to the jury that convicted Burmeister.

``This evidence deals with the specific issue upon which this case turns, which is Malcolm Wright's knowledge of the intent of James Burmeister at the moment of the beginning of the transaction,'' Brewer said.

Defense lawyers for Wright, who has pleaded innocent, had argued that the testimony was prejudicial.

Prosecutors said the only reason Burden and James were killed as they walked along a dim street was because they were black.

Meadows, who said he drove the car for Burmeister and Wright, agreed to help prosecutors.

Defense attorney Paul Herzog said testimony about the tattoo was ``the most explosive testimony in this case. We are simply left here with the impression that this man committed another murder. There can't be anything more prejudicial in a murder case.''

District Attorney Ed Grannis said the testimony was critical.

``It is a ritual a part of the skinhead culture,'' Grannis said .``It is the very heart of the whole proceedings.''

Meadows also testified that Burmeister tucked a pistol in his belt as he got out of the car and remarked that he might earn his tattoo that night.

A murder was part of an initiation rite for Burmeister, who had a lower rank in the skinhead organization at Fort Bragg, Meadows testified.

Wright told him to drive on side streets near downtown Fayetteville because they were looking for places that were dimly lit in predominantly black areas, Meadows said.

When Burden and James were spotted, ``Malcolm Wright told me to pull up to the end of the street and turn left,'' Meadows said during testimony before the jury.

A few minutes after Burmeister and Wright got out of the car, Meadows said, he heard three gunshots. Nobody returned to the car, so he left alone.

WRAL-TV5'sTerri Grucasaid Wright's parents and family members of the victims embraced and talked outside the courtroom Tuesday. The elder Wright said he neither shared nor understood his son's beliefs.

--From Staff and Wire Reports

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