Court hears 5 motions ahead of Junior Burnett sex crimes trial

Court hears 5 motions ahead of Junior Burnett sex crimes trial
Junior Burnett/Photo credit: WDAM

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A former Pine Belt lawman convicted of attempted capital murder was back in a Lamar County courtroom Monday for a motion hearing before his upcoming trial.

Junior Burnett, 50, is awaiting trial for sexual battery charges in Lamar County that he was indicted on in 2014 by a grand jury. Burnett was indicted on seven charges: four counts of fondling, one count of attempted sexual battery and two counts of sexual battery.

The former Hattiesburg police officer and Lamar County deputy was convicted in December 2014 on two counts of attempted capital murder for hiring a hit man to kill his wife and stepdaughter to prevent them from testifying. Burnett is currently serving 60 years for those convictions.

During Monday's hearing, five motions were heard by Judge Anthony Mozingo.

1. The State's motion to clear the courtroom during the victim's testimony. This motion was unopposed and was granted by the court. Due to this, the court will clear the courtroom of any unnecessary personnel during the victim's testimony only.

2. State's Rule 412 Motion in Limine, this motion is commonly referred to as the "rape shield" motion. It prevents the defendant from putting on any evidence of the victims prior sexual behaviors. It was unopposed and granted.

3. The State's Rule 404(b) motion/defendant's motion in Limine to exclude evidence of prior convictions. The court ruled for the State, allowing prior convictions to be admitted into evidence.

4. Defendant's Motion for Funds to Hire an Investigator to Aid in the Preparation of His Defense – The defense is asking for Lamar County to fund a DNA expert on behalf of the defendant due to his indigent status. After testimony establishing his indigence, the court granted this motion.  The defense is allotted up to $2500 for an expert to review the DNA evidence and give a report.  If the expert testifies at trial, the court will raise that allotment to no more than $5,000.  The defense also has 45 days to supply the State with its report.

5. Defendant's Motion for Change of Venue – The Court granted this motion in a prior hearing, but recited it again today on the record.  The venue is transferred to Rankin County and the trial date is January 24, 2017.

"I think with what we have seen today we are now in a trial mode and my staff will be getting ready and we'll be ready in January," 15th Circuit Court District, District Attorney Hal Kittrell said. "We've got victims that even though we had the case down in Pearl River County, that case was a good case for us, I mean it got him the years that he needed to be gone and I think that was justice served."

Burnett's defense attorney, Scotty Chabert was pleased with the court granting a DNA expert.

"It's a necessary ingredient to the defense of this case, is to know what do these DNA samples represent, what do they accurately represent from the standpoint of an expert," Chabert said.

Kittrell said, "We've advanced this just as quickly as we can, we feel like we've done that, we've always held to the trial dates that were set, this one is set in January, and again with the motions being concluded today I see nothing but a direct path to trial in January. It's not overkill to me, it's just justice."