COURTNEY COCO: Witness who claims he saw man and vehicle leave abandoned building testifies

Day 2 of David Burns trial
Day 2 of David Burns' trial.
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 12:40 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2022 at 7:02 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Day two of the trial of David Burns, 46, of Boyce began Friday, Oct. 28. Burns is charged with second-degree murder for the October 2004 death of 19-year-old Courtney Coco of Alexandria.

RECAP OF DAY 1 OF THE TRIAL HERE

Part I - 12:30 p.m.

Janet Veyon
Janet Veyon(Susan Alexander)

It’s day two of testimony in the Courtney Coco case for the second-degree murder trial of David Anthony Burns. The first witness we heard from on Friday (Oct. 28) was Janet Veyon, a civilian employee at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office, who also knew one of the State’s star witnesses, Jude Wilson.

Veyon said on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004, which would have been the last night of the Texas Rice Festival, she was transporting livestock and was headed down FM 1406, the road where the abandoned building where Coco’s body would be discovered the next morning.

Veyon said she later learned that Wilson’s vehicle was ahead of hers and she watched a vehicle back out from the building’s property and nearly T-bone Wilson’s vehicle.

The next morning, Coco’s body was found inside the building. Veyon said four days later Wilson came into the sheriff’s office and said he wanted to report the near-accident.

“Four days later, Mr. Wilson came to the sheriff’s office, he said, ‘I need to inform about what I saw,” said Veyon.

Veyon said she remembered that the vehicle that *she* saw was a “dark colored vehicle,” but wasn’t sure of the make or model. She said she also remembered that night of Oct. 3, 2004, trying to write down the plate number.

“I remember trying to write down the plate number in case someone came forward saying they almost got in a wreck,” she said, but told the jury she lost the number when she washed her clothes. Veyon said she didn’t know it was Wilson in the other vehicle until he came into the sheriff’s office later that week.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Chris LaCour questioned Veyon’s memory, especially since he said the State didn’t reach out to her about what she witnessed until just a few months ago.

“I know what I saw that day,” Veyon told the jury and reaffirmed that this all happened the last night of the Texas Rice Festival, which was Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004.

Part II - 1:15 p.m.

The second witness we heard from Friday morning for day two of the second-degree murder trial for David Anthony Burns was one of the State’s star witnesses, Jude Wilson.

Wilson lived in Winnie, Texas, the area where Courtney Coco’s body was found in an abandoned building on Oct. 4, 2004.

Wilson told the jury that he remembered that building so vividly because he was almost T-boned there late one night, the night that our previous witness, Janet Veyon, said was Oct. 3, 2004, the night before Coco’s body was found.

Wilson told the jury that he had stopped to get his wife cigarettes and spotted the car.

“As I was coming over the overpass, I noticed there was a car at the abandoned cement house,” said Wilson. He said that was unusual because there shouldn’t have been a vehicle there at that time, which was around 10 p.m.

“I saw someone walk in front of the headlights,” said Wilson. He said the car was about 10 feet from the building.

“They got in the car, the dome light was turned off, they started backing out. I begin to see it’s one person in there,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the man in the car never looked back and nearly T-boned him backing out. Wilson said he caught part of the license plate.

“I felt like I needed the plate number. As far as I knew, he was stealing copper,” said Wilson. He noticed it was a Louisiana license plate and caught part of it, a ‘J’ and a ‘W’ and an ‘8.’

Wilson turned around to get a better look. He saw the vehicle going about 80 mph in the direction of Houston. Wilson said he got a silhouetted glimpse of the driver.

“I noticed one person in there...at first I thought the guy was bald...he had really, really short hair. He had the features of a white person - regular lips, nose...no mustache or beard. Very short hair.”

Wilson said he knew the near-accident happened the week of the Texas Rice Festival, but can’t remember the exact day. When he learned of the murder on the news, he went to the sheriff’s office and offered up a statement and description. He signed the statement.

The next time he heard about that statement was more than 15 years later when Alexandria Police Department Det. Tanner Dryden called him. Wilson told he was able to draw a silhouette of the person he saw in 2004, from memory.

Dryden asked him to review a line-up, which Wilson said he was “skeptical” of doing. He circled David Anthony Burns.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Christopher LaCour pointed out that Wilson never said in his statement to the sheriff’s office that the number ‘8′ was on the license plate. Wilson said he told the sheriff’s office that detail, but NEVER read the completed statement, just signed it.

“Do you make it a habit to sign things without reading it?” asked LaCour.

“I guess I have more trust in Chambers County,” said Wilson.

LaCour also pointed out that this was the first time Wilson ever said he saw someone walk in front of the car that night. Wilson again said he told the sheriff’s office that detail, but it wasn’t included and he still signed the statement.

“Are you playing games?” asked LaCour.

“That’s wildly inappropriate,” interjected prosecutor, Hugo Holland.

Wilson told LaCour the reason he was skeptical to pick someone out of a line-up was because it was more than 15 years later.

“If I hadn’t been able to recognize features, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Wilson.

Wilson admitted to not seeing the driver’s full face, which LaCour pointed out was every single image that was part of the line-up.

“I used my mind and turned him sideways,” said Wilson. He also said he never got a full look because he was trying not to get hit.

There was some back and forth about which day Wilson could have possibly seen the vehicle. LaCour pointed out that Coco could have still been alive at one point of a date Wilson gave.

“I’m guessing,” said Wilson. “I’m terrible with dates.”

LaCour doubled down.

“You signed a statement saying it was dark inside the vehicle and you couldn’t see in it,” said LaCour.

“That’s not what I told them,” said Wilson. “Why would I go up there?”

“Good question,” said LaCour. “A man’s life is on the line.”

LaCour asked if the features on the man Wilson said he saw could be the same features on anyone.

“A profile is like a fingerprint,” said Wilson.

During re-direct, Wilson told prosecutor Hugo Holland that he “gets things mixed up” with dates. He said he’s even been fired from jobs for thinking he was off when he was supposed to work.

Holland asked Wilson if it was his intention to deceive.

“I had no intention to do that. Why would I? I’m not gaining anything from this,” he said.

“You understand someone could go to prison for a very long time? Does it change any testimony you provided to this jury?” asked Holland.

Wilson said “no.”

** Holland is being assisted by ADA Johnny Giordano. LaCour is assisted by Willie Stephens. Judge Mary Doggett is presiding.

Part III - 1:45 p.m.

We had a couple of quick witnesses right before lunch.

A man named Clyde Griffin testified that he knew Courtney through her friend, Jackie Hampton. He last saw Courtney the Friday before her body was found, the last known night anyone saw her.

He said the next day, Saturday, Oct. 2, he saw Courtney’s car in the neighborhood.

“I saw a guy in that car,” he said. “I didn’t know his name. I saw him before.” No other significant testimony came from this witness.

We also heard from an investigator for the Rapides Parish DA’s Office who testified that he tried to track down four witnesses: Lonnie Melbert, Jackie Hampton, Lewis Jones, and Alex Brown. He could never find them, and some of their family members told him that they hadn’t seen their relatives in years.

We also heard from Michelle Paul, Courtney’s aunt. She said 18 days after police searched Courtney’s Alexandria rental home, family was allowed inside to retrieve her belongings.

When Paul entered the house, she said she noticed Courtney’s comforter was missing.

“We all have comforters on our bed, we don’t sleep with just sheets,” she said. She alerted police.

She also talked about an unusual find in Courtney’s dryer.

“When I opened the dryer, there were six mechanics rags. They smelled like bleach. I thought, why would Courtney wash this small load. And, I thought, why did they smell of bleach?”

Part IV - 6:30 p.m.

Lace Evans, Courtney Coco's older sister.
Lace Evans, Courtney Coco's older sister.(Susan Alexander)

Lace Evans, Courtney Coco’s older sister, testified this afternoon in the David Burns trial.

Evans was engaged to burns for six years. Four years after Coco’s death, they dated again for a few months.

Coco’s body was found in Texas on Monday, Oct. 4, 2004. Evans said the last time she spoke to her sister was the Thursday before her death.

Evans said she and Burns got into an argument early Saturday morning, and Burns left the house, returned around 45 minutes later, then left again. She said she never saw him all weekend after that.

The couple shared a car, which Lace typically took to work. So, when Monday morning rolled around - before she was made aware of Coco’s death - she tried to go to work, but the car was still gone. She got a ride to work with someone else. Evans said she found out about Coco’s death around noon that day. She said the next time she saw Burns and the car was that evening when the family gathered at her mother’s house.

Evans told the jury she had suspected Burns and Coco were having an affair. She said she overheard her sister say “who is that?” on a phone call to Burns that he didn’t know he answered. Also, she said the two would slip out together when Evans was recovering from surgery. She said when Coco’s jewelry was returned to the family “there was a gold ring in there I didn’t know she wore. It was a perfect wedding match - it had grooves that fit perfectly into my ring.” (referring to the promise ring Burns had given Evans). She said she confronted the two before Coco died, but they denied it.

Evans also said that when she and Burns got back together - four years after Coco’s death - she spotted a leopard print comforter at Burns’ mother’s house. She said, “I saw her sitting on the couch with the same leopard-skin comforter.” She said it was incredibly similar to the comforter missing from Coco’s bedroom after she died.

When asked if she agreed with APD Det. Cedric Green’s characterization of her being “uncooperative” during the initial investigation, she replied, “disagree.”

Part V - 7 p.m.

Charlene Goleman
Charlene Goleman(Susan Alexander)

Charlene Goleman took the stand at the trial.

Goleman said around 2009/2010, her ex-husband was friends with Burns from work, and would hang out outside of work. She told the jury that Burns had made 5-10 concerning comments to her about Coco’s death over the span of a few months.

She said Burns brought up a man named Ernest Veal, Jr. who was involved in a shooting that killed one of her friend’s husband. She was actually a witness to that shooting.

Goleman told the jury that Burns would make comments about “a trip to Texas,” and Coco’s body being “wrapped in plastic,” and that Burns, Veal, and Veal’s cousin were involved in her death.

She said Burns also told her that all three of the men had sex with her but “it couldn’t be proved because they used condoms.” She added that Burns told her he choked Coco and used hand gestures to mimic the action.

Goleman reported the comments to the police and while giving her statement, detectives asked her to call Burns on the phone, but she couldn’t remember in court what was said during the call.

Background Information on the Case

Coco’s body was found in an abandoned building in Winnie, Texas on Oct. 4, 2004. Detectives said she was strangled and believe that her body was wrapped in her comforter and dumped in Texas. It is believed that Coco may have died the day before. Prosecutors have said that Burns was in a relationship with Coco’s sister and allege that he was also seeing Coco.

The case largely remained cold for nearly 17 years, at which time Burns was indicted by a Rapides Parish grand jury on April 13, 2021.

Jury selection began on Tuesday and both the State and defense questioned potential jurors largely on their pre-trial knowledge of the case. That was due, in part, to extensive news coverage over the years and a 2019 true crime podcast entitled “Real Life Real Crime: Who Murdered Courtney Coco?”

While a number of jurors in a panel that was interviewed on Wednesday were familiar with the case, the State and defense were still able to select 12 jurors and two alternates from the pool of jurors interviewed over the course of two days.

Special Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland and Assistant District Attorney Johnny Giordano are prosecuting for the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office. Burns is represented by public defender Christopher LaCour, who is being assisted by Willie Stephens and Randall Hayes.

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