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Jury convicts Sol D. Burke of murder

COURTLAND

A little more than seven years after the crime, Sol Damacus Burke, 32, was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Eric “E.T.” Smith on Monday afternoon in Southampton County Circuit Court. He was convicted by the jury in a trial that had started on Nov. 12.

Sol Damacus Burke

Burke, aka “Dukey,” was specifically convicted of murdering Smith at the home of his mother on Pearl Street in Franklin on the night of Nov. 8, 2012. With Burke was La’mon Frederick Bradshaw of Emporia, then 17. The juvenile was later arrested and tried as an adult, and found guilty of second-degree murder. Also with them at the time was Rowan D. Bruff of Franklin, who allegedly drove the getaway car.

Burke was himself later arrested in Chesapeake on Jan. 10, 2013, following a two-month search.

Revenge was long thought to be the motive for the killing. Smith had reportedly beaten up Burke after an attempted robbery in the county.

At his trial, Burke defended himself. On Monday, he made a motion that a witness he called should be considered an adverse one. Judge Wayne Farmer denied such a move.

Several times the jury was asked to remove itself either because Burke wanted to address the judge without the members present, or for other technical reasons.

Judge Farmer admonished the suspect more than once on how he was proceeding. For example, when Bradshaw was brought in as a witness, Burke would object to cross-examination by Toni Colvin, the deputy Commonwealth Attorney. The judge had to explain that Burke had to wait for her to finish. During his turn, the questioning of Bradshaw was considered leading the witness and therefore objectionable.

Burke protested that he shouldn’t be held to the same exacting standards as a regular attorney. Judge Farmer, visibly frustrated, sent out the jury and loudly asked Burke to explain how he can be exempt; where in the state code would allow such exceptions. The judge explained that asking a witness a question by starting off with “Isn’t it true …” is considered leading, which cannot be done. Burke was also chided for not having cooperated with the past seven lawyers that were made available to him.

“You have been warned,” said Judge Farmer to the suspect. “Mr. Burke, I am not here to give you lessons on how to practice law.”

Ultimately, the jury later found Burke guilty on all counts but one charge that was not prosecuted. The others including shooting or stabbing in the commission of a felony; shooting into an occupied building, shooting in a public place, which caused an injury; and using a firearm in a felony – first offense.

Burke faces sentencing on Thursday, Jan. 23.