David Burnett (politician)

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David Burnett
Member of the Arkansas Senate
from the 22nd district
In office
January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2016
Preceded byJeremy Hutchinson
Succeeded byDave Wallace
Member of the Arkansas Senate
from the 15th district
In office
January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2012
Preceded bySteve Bryles
Succeeded byDavid J. Sanders
Personal details
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Sonja Burnett
ResidenceOsceola, Arkansas, USA
Alma materUniversity of Arkansas (B.S. 1963, J.D. 1966)
OccupationJudge, lawyer
Websitewww.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2013/2014F/Pages/MemberProfile.aspx?member=Burnett

David Burnett (born 1942 or 1943[1]) is a Democratic politician and former member of the Arkansas Senate. Before he entered the Senate, Burnett had been a judge.[2] Burnett is notable for being the original trial judge of the West Memphis Three case.[3]

West Memphis Three case[edit]

Burnett was the presiding judge in the murder trials of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, collectively known as the West Memphis Three. In February 1994 after a jury convicted Misskelley of one court of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, Burnett sentenced Misskelley, then 18 years old, to life in prison plus 40 years.[4] In March 1994 after a jury convicted Echols and Baldwin of three counts of capital murder, Burnett sentenced Echols to death and Baldwin, 17 at the time, to life in prison without parole.[5]

In 2007, new DNA testing became available that was technologically possible at the time of the crime, and produced evidence that hairs found at the crime scene did not match Misskelley, Baldwin or Echols and possibly matched the stepfather of one of the victims. Based on this, all three defendants asked Burnett for a new trail. In September 2008, Burnett denied retrials for all three saying the new evidence was "inconclusive".[6]

In September 2008, attorney Daniel Stidham (who became a judge in 2001), who represented Misskelley in 1994, testified at a post-conviction relief hearing. Stidham testified under oath that during the trial that Burnett erred by making an improper communication with the jury during its deliberations. Stidham overheard Burnett discuss taking a lunch break with the jury foreman and heard the foreman reply that the jury was almost finished. He testified Judge Burnett responded, "You'll need food for when you come back for sentencing," and that the foreman asked in return what would happen if the defendant was acquitted. Stidham said the judge closed the door without answering. He testified that his own failure to put this incident on the court record and his failure to meet the minimum requirements in state law to represent a defendant in a capital murder case was evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel and that Misskelley's conviction should therefore be vacated.[7]

In January 2010, Burnett denied motions for all Baldwin and Misskelley to receive new trials based on inadequate representation during their original trials.[8]

In November 2010 after Burnett had retired from the bench and had been elected to the Arkansas Senate, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered new evidentiary hearings for all three defendants based on the new DNA evidence. The state's high court rebuked Burnett's 2008 decision not to grant Echols a new trial based on the DNA evidence.[9]

The three were released from prison in August 2011 after all three pleaded guilty to first-degree murder using a legal mechanism called an Alford plea, which allows the defendant to maintain their innocence while conceding that there is enough evidence to possibly convict them at trial. Under the plea deals, all three were resentenced to time-served for the murders (18 years and 75 days) and immediately released from prison.[10] In February 2012, Burnett gave an interview stating that he was unhappy with the decision to release the pair saying "I'm not real happy with the outcome. I would have preferred to see them have a new trial", but stood by actions in the case saying "Frankly, everything I did was affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court."[11]

State Senate[edit]

In May 2010, Burnett defeated Blytheville Mayor Barrett E. Harrison in the Democratic primary for the state's 15th Senate district to succeed the term-limited Sen. Steve Bryles.[12] Burnett took almost 64 percent of approximately 8,600 votes cast.[13] Burnett won election in the general election running unopposed.[12] Due to redistricting, Burnett ran for re-election in 2012 in the 22nd Senate District. He was elected both in the Democratic primary and general election without opposition.

In 2015, Burnett introduced a bill in the Arkansas Senate that would have abolished the death penalty in Arkansas.[14] The bill failed to pass, officially dying when the state Senate adjourned sine die, which means the chamber ended its business for the legislative session.[15] In November 2016, Burnett was defeated in his re-election bid by Republican state Rep. Dave Wallace, losing by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.[16] The race was the first that Burnett faced any oppositions since /the 2010 Democratic Primary for the state Senate 15th District's Democratic nomination. He ran unopposed in the general elections of 2010 and 2012.

Electoral History[edit]

Arkansas Senate 15th District Democratic Primary, 2010[17]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic David Burnett 5,472 63.7 N/A
Democratic Barrett E. Harrison 3,121 36.3 N/A
Arkansas Senate 15th District election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic David Burnett N/A 100 N/A
Democratic hold
Arkansas Senate 22nd District election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic David Burnett N/A 100 N/A
Democratic gain from Republican
Arkansas Senate 22nd District election, 2016[18]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Dave Wallace 14,453 60.4 N/A
Democratic David Burnett (I) 9,477 39.6 N/A
Republican gain from Democratic

References[edit]

  1. ^ interview by Lindsey Fry, November 2008, published 2009-06-10 (retrieved August 23, 2011): "in 1975 at age 32"
  2. ^ Biography of David Burnett, Senate District 15
  3. ^ WM3.org - Dan Stidham's Case Synopsis
  4. ^ "Youth Is Convicted In Slaying of 3 Boys In an Arkansas City". The New York Times. February 5, 1994.
  5. ^ "Teens Found Guilty In Boys' Slayings". Free Lance-Star. March 19, 1994. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  6. ^ Zeman, Jill (September 10, 2008). "Judge rejects request for new trial for 3 men convicted of 1993 slayings of 3 Arkansas boys". Nesting.com. Associated Press. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  7. ^ The Associated Press (September 30, 2008). "Former lawyer supports effort for a new trial". Arkansas Online. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  8. ^ Ashley Blackstone (January 20, 2010). "Judge says no new trial for Baldwin & Misskelley in WM3 Case". THV11.com. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  9. ^ Associated Press (November 4, 2010). "Court orders new hearing for 'West Memphis 3'". NBC News. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  10. ^ Robertson, Campbell (August 19, 2011). "Deal Frees 'West Memphis Three' in Arkansas". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
  11. ^ Max Brantley (February 10, 2012). "West Memphis 3 judge: I did good". Arkansas Times. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Judge in West Memphis case wins Senate seat". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Associated Press. May 18, 2010. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  13. ^ "Statewide Results by Contest 2010 Preferential Primary Election & Non Partisan Judicial General Election". Arkansas Secretary of State. June 18, 2010. Retrieved March 17, 2010.
  14. ^ Max Brantley (February 10, 2015). "Bill filed to end the death penalty". Arkansas Times. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  15. ^ "AR SB298 2015, 90th General Assembly". LegiScan. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "Arkansas 22nd District State Senate Results: Dave Wallace Wins". New York Times. August 1, 2017. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  17. ^ "2010 Preferential Primary Election & Non Partisan Judicial General Election". June 18, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  18. ^ "2016 GENERAL ELECTION AND NONPARTISAN RUNOFF ELECTION". November 8, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2017.