|San Jacinto News-Times - Local News
Stories Added - June 2009
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Third family member tried for 2004 murder of janitor
San Jacinto News- Times - June 2009
COLDSPRING – Richard Winfrey Jr., was found not guilty Friday for the 2004 brutal slaying of Murray Burr, a Willow Springs resident who worked as a janitor for the Coldspring- Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District. Winfrey was the third member of his family to be tried for Burr’s murder. His father, Richard Winfrey Sr., was tried in 2007, found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison.
His sister, Megan Winfrey, was given a life sentence for capital murder and 45 years for conspiracy to commit murder following a 2008 trial. According to a Harris County medical examiner, Burr’s injuries were located on his face, neck and head. Burr sustained 28 sharp-force injuries. The fatal wound involved the left internal jugular vein and the left external carotid artery. Burr’s right eye orbital was broken and both sides of his jaw were broken. It took only 13 minutes for the 12-member jury to return a not guilty verdict for Winfrey Jr. Following the trial, San Jacinto County Criminal District Attorney Bill Burnett said, “Because this was the weakest of the three cases we tried this one last. I am convinced that the two primary actors were convicted. I think a fair trial by an impartial jury showed that even though we could put Richard Jr., in contact with the victim the jury didn’t feel we had enough other evidence to corroborate the canine scent evidence in this case. In the other two cases we did have suffi cient corroboration coming from the defendants themselves. As in the other two trials, many of the same witnesses were called to testify. Among them was Burr’s niece Tracy Brown.
Describing to the jury who her uncle was, Brown said he was a kind and considerate man who loved children and his family. She also told the jury about Burr’s fi nances, saying that she had assisted Burr in setting up a retirement plan that was worth $450,000. She said about a month before the murder Burr had signed papers naming her as the benefi ciary of the retirement fund. She said the original benefi ciary on the account had been his mother but he wanted to change it even though she insisted that he not. “I would rather have my uncle than the money,” she tearfully said. Brown said it was not unusual for her to be involved in Burr’s fi nances. She said that she helped to arrange fi nancing while employed at the Bank of San Jacinto County for Burr’s mobile home and handled his day to day fi nances since “he was not a book smart person.”
Brown told the jury that Burr was employed as a janitor at the Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District for about 27 years. Burr’s sister, Dorothy Mc- Fadden, testifi ed next. She said that the last time she saw her brother alive was on Tuesday, prior to fi nding Burr’s body in his mobile home on the following Saturday morning. Describing the scene, Mc- Fadden said she found marks of blood in the kitchen and she followed them to the bedroom. His foot was sticking out of the bedroom door. She said the only thing she noticed missing from Burr’s house at the time was his family bible. On cross examination, Assistant Defense Attorney Shirley Baccus-Lobel asked McFadden about two missing guns from Burr’s house.
“Why did you wait three to fi ve months before alerting the authorities about the missing guns,” Lobel asked. “I didn’t pay any attention to the guns,” McFadden said. Testifying for prosecution, Steve Winfrey, Richard Winfrey Sr.’s cousin, said he had seen Burr the day of the murder sitting in front of his house petting a cat. On cross-examination, Defense Attorney Billy Ravkind asked Steve about the woods separating Burr’s house from Winfrey Road. Steve testifi ed that at the time of the murder the woods between Winfrey Road and Burr’s house consisted of logging roads and a pipeline. He said it would take about 45 minutes to an hour to walk between the locations, which were about 2.5 miles. The prosecution then called former San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Wright to the witness stand. Wright said he was the one who collected the scent from Burr. Wright said he rubbed a scent pad on the back of Burr’s neck and another on the leg of his pants and then placed both scent pads into the same plastic bag.
Another former San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Deputy, Paul Lascomb, testifi ed that he created the crime scene log for Burr’s house. San Jacinto County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Jonathan Petix then called former San Jacinto County Sheriff Lacy Rogers to testify. Rogers testimony, on a number of questions, was cut short by objections from Defense Attorney Ravkind, which were upheld by 411th Judicial District Judge Robert Hill Trapp. Calling former Coldspring- Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District employee Karen Robertson to testify, Robertson told the prosecution that she distinctly remembered witnessing Megan Winfrey jump out of her seat in the classroom, run to Burr, grab him, pull him back inside the classroom and asked him when he was going to take her out on a date and spend some of that money he has on her.
Robertson initially told investigators that the conversation occurred in the hall after Megan Winfrey was leaving the bathroom and that she and Burr were walking away from the classroom. Texas Ranger Ron Duff testifi ed next, introducing the canine scent line-up, the only piece of evidence that linked Richard Winfrey Jr., to the crime scene. Duff explained the procedure for a canine scent line-up and then showed the jury the video of dog trainer and canine scent offi cer Keith Pikett of Ft. Bend County with his dogs hitting on the scent pad of Richard Winfrey Jr. Defense Attorney Ravkind asked whether or not Duff knew that Pikett had been found by a court to have staged canine scent line-ups. Duff said that he did not.
Ravkind asked Duff if he was aware that another jailhouse informant, Joseph Mark Daigle, was serving a life sentence for “raping a five-year-old child” and that he had been convicted of securities fraud. Duff said he was aware of those facts. “Do you feel that someone convicted of securities fraud is trustworthy?” asked Ravkind. “In this instance, yes,” Duff said. Following the trial, District Attorney Burnett said DNA samples were collected from many people including Richard Sr., Megan and Richard Jr. There was no DNA found at the crime scene. During testimony Daigle, who had been incarcerated with Winfrey Sr., indicated that Winfrey Sr. told him he came back twice and cleaned up much of the scene, according to Burnett. During the trial much was said by the defense about a pubic hair, a pair of panties and a shoe print found at the scene, he said.
Winfrey Sr. told Daigle he planted those there and that Winfrey Sr. was complaining because the authorities didn’t pursue that more. According to Daigle, Winfrey Sr. said he beat and stabbed Murray and staged it to look like a homosexual killing. Daigle said Winfrey Sr. said that his only mistake was knocking the vacuum cleaner over and getting blood on it. Daigle said that Winfrey Sr. also said that the authorities would never find the guns he took. The guns being missing, the vacuum cleaner being turned over and a drop of blood being under it and over it, finding panties, hair and a shoe print have been corroborated by the investigation of the crime scene, Burnett said. Daigle also said Winfrey Sr. told him that he threw the bloody clothes in a creek. A good while after the crime, former Sheriff Rogers discovered bloody clothes in a creek on Winfrey Road down from where Winfrey was staying, but they had been there long enough the DPS lab could not make a definitive match as to whose blood it was, Burnett said. “So many things Richard Sr. has said have been corroborated,” Burnett said.
“And he told Daigle that he was going to plan an escape and kill me, the judge and the bailiff. Since he has made that statement, he has received a hardship transfer from the Alfred Unit in Wichita Falls to Beaumont. We have alerted that unit that he is a high escape risk,” Burnett said. “One other thing came out in Daigle’s testimony. Richard told Daigle he had no problem killing Megan and Richard Jr. if it would help him get off or derail his own prosecution or conviction. He also told Daigle he could have more children. It also came out that he considered Richard Jr. the weak link and was worried about him talking,” Burnett said. During the fourth day of the trial the defense called Dr. I.Lehr Brisbin, Jr., senior ecologist, Emeritus, The University of Georgia, to the witness stand. Dr. Brisbin testified that there were “flaws” in the canine scent lineup. “It’s possible that people at the lineup and others present at the time of testing who know what the answer is can cue the dogs,” he said.
Describing what he observed on Pikett’s video of the canine scent lineup, Brisbin said, “If doing a scent lineup the dog should check each can. The dog dropped his nose and started to track through the grass like it was tracking and it was tracking its handlers steps. Watch the handlers feet. Watch his stride between cans until he gets between the cans where the next one is and the leash tightens, his feet stop moving and then the hit.” In closing statements, Defense Attorney Lobel said, “The state has proven Richard is innocent,” and asked the jury to “not put the sins of Richard Sr. and Megan on Richard Jr.” Mistakes are made. The canine scent luneup cannot be considered as reliable, she said. “I ask you to find the defendant Richard Lynn Winfrey Jr., not guilty on both issues,” Lobel said.