Comparing gang member Horace Burns to a Nazi storm trooper, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling E. Norris asked a jury Thursday to find the 20-year-old Los Angeles man guilty in the mistaken-identity murders of four relatives of retired football star Kermit Alexander, former defensive back for UCLA and the Los Angeles Rams.
Burns, who faces the death penalty if convicted by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that began deliberations late Thursday morning, is one of three gang members charged with the slayings of Alexander’s mother, Ebora 58; sister, Dietra, 24, and nephews, Damani Garner, 13, and Damon Bonner, 8, last Aug. 31.
During his six-week trial, Burns testified that he was an unwitting accomplice who waited outside in a van with two women while fellow gang members Tiequon Aundray Cox, 18, and Darren Charles Williams, 24, entered Ebora Alexander’s South-Central Los Angeles house.
In his closing arguments, however, Norris, who said the killings rivaled those committed by the Charles Manson gang in shock value, compared Burns and his fellow defendants to Nazis.
Dressed in Uniforms
If the trio were dressed in storm trooper uniforms and one had remained in the van, Norris asked the jurors, “Would there be any doubt . . . all three of them committed these atrocious murders?”
The victims, Norris noted, were innocent and died only because the killers attacked the Alexander house by mistake.
In his instructions to the eight-woman, four-man jury, Judge Aurelio Munoz said Burns could be held liable for the murders even if he fired no weapon, as long as he shared the same criminal intent as those who pulled the trigger.
Norris said Burns’ intent was proven by statements he made to witnesses and through a letter he wrote to Cox that was intercepted by a sheriff’s deputy last month in County Jail.
The hand-scrawled missive included a promise that if Cox testified on Burns’ behalf and helped set him free, Burns would “make sure know (sic) witness shows up” at Cox’s trial.
“The bottom line of that letter is indicative entirely of the guilt of all three of them,” Norris said. “He (Burns) is going to get out and kill all the witnesses.”
In his own closing arguments, defense attorney Gerald Lenoir asked the jury to consider the issues of guilt by association and witness credibility.
Burns, Lenoir acknowledged, has not led an exemplary life as a member of a street gang.
"(But) a not-guilty verdict will not tell Horace you endorse his life style,” Lenoir said.
Lenoir described the intercepted letter as a desperate attempt by a frightened, unsophisticated youth to get his co-defendant to testify on his behalf.
He also warned the jury to discount testimony by key prosecution witnesses, including a drug user and a County Jail inmate seeking a transfer to another institution.
“Are these the kind of witnesses you’re going to convict this young man (on)?” he asked.