COURTNEY COCO CASE - Day 3: David Burns found guilty of 2nd-degree murder in Courtney Coco trial
Day 3 of David Burns trial
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A verdict has been reached in the trial of David Anthony Burns. A jury has found him guilty of second-degree murder for the Oct. 2004 death of Courtney Coco. The verdict is unanimous. Sentencing is set for Nov. 28 at 9:30 a.m.
12:20 p.m. UPDATE
The State called its remaining witnesses on Monday. The first witness was Ina Laborde, Courtney’s grandmother. The last witness was Stephanie Belgard, Courtney’s mother.
Laborde was only on the stand briefly and told the jury that three weeks before Courtney died, she was in her rental house. She said she noticed a fish and shell patterned shower curtain.
Laborde said after Courtney died, the family was allowed into the rental house about three weeks later. She said she noticed the shower curtain was gone, and while it was unusual, it didn’t hit her right away.
“It really wasn’t important to me at that point,” she said.
Belgard wasn’t on the stand for very long either.
“How long have you waited for this?” asked prosecutor, Hugo Holland.
“Over 18 years,” said Belgard.
Belgard said the last time she saw Courtney was the Friday before her body was found. Belgard was heading out on a weekend camping trip and Courtney stopped by the house because she would be taking care of the dogs that weekend.
Belgard was asked about the men that Courtney dated. She told the jury she dated both white and black men, and referenced a prom photo with a white boyfriend that Courtney had.
She was asked during cross-examination by defense attorney Chris LaCour if she had a problem with Courtney dating black men.
“I don’t care if they were purple. You’re letting people use you,” Belgard said of what she told Courtney ahead of her death.
Belgard also talked about an inheritance that Courtney had from a work accident that her father had before she was born. After he died, that money became hers when she turned 18: $1,500/month and a lump sum every five years.
1:30 p.m. UPDATE
We heard more testimony from Monday morning from state witnesses. These two witnesses were key to the case for David Anthony Burns: Shamus Setliff and Tiffany Cedars.
Setliff is a lifelong friend of Burns. Cedars is Setliff’s ex-wife.
Setliff said Labor Day weekend 2004, one month before Courtney Coco was killed, he went on a trip to the LA Dunes to ride 4-wheelers. On that trip were Burns, Lace Evans (Coco’s sister who was engaged to Burns) and Coco.
“She’s a pretty girl,” Setliff said of Coco. “Flirty.”
He described the relationship between Coco and Burns: “There was something going on.” That’s in line with previous testimony where we learned from Lace that she believed her sister was having an affair with her fiancé.
Setliff said a week after Coco’s body was found, he spoke to Burns by phone.
“He called and let me know they found the body,” said Setliff.
“And?” asked prosecutor, Hugo Holland.
“His mother knew,” said Setliff.
“And?” asked Holland.
“He done it,” said Setliff.
We jump forward a few years here and that leads us up to testimony by Cedars. But, we learn in court that Cedars recorded a conversation with Setliff for the “Real Life Real Crime” podcast on Coco’s death.
Setliff said he never told Cedars that Burns used a blanket or that his mother cleaned it. He also said he never told Cedars that Burns told him what Coco’s body looked like.
When asked by Holland where Setliff was the weekend before Coco’s body was discovered in Winnie, TX, he said: “Probably my house. My shop.”
We learned that Setliff drove a work van and would distribute items for places like convenience stores, things like small doses of medication. His route would take him through Texas.
“Did you tell police you went by that road the weekend she was murdered?” asked Holland.
“I told them I passed by there - more than once - I forgot my route. I had to go talk to my boss,” said Setliff.
“Three times that weekend,” said Holland.
There was some talk about a friend who had a silver Mustang, which Setliff said was “laser red.” Holland didn’t go too deep with that part of questioning.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Chris LaCour asked Setliff if he had a “strange fascination” with Coco.
“No,” he replied and said he never wanted to date her.
LaCour said Setliff gave three different statements to police - and two weeks ago recanted everything.
“Why are you up here if you’re a liar?” asked LaCour.
“I got a summons to court,” he replied.
LaCour said Cedars, who had yet to testify at this point, said she found panties in his work van late Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004 - one day before the body was found. She also said he smelled like “death.” Of note, we learned in previous testimony that Coco was found nude, waist down.
“A camping trip, not death,” Setliff said of the smell.
“You put yourself in Winnie, Texas before the morning the body was found,” said LaCour.
“I’ve never been to Winnie, Texas,” replied Setliff, opposite of what he just told Holland.
Cedars took the stand next.
She gave more of a timeline of when she said Setliff the weekend before Coco’s body was found.
“I’m thinking Sunday night or Monday, about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. in the morning,” said Cedars.
Cedars said that Setliff told her that he had been in a 4-wheeler wreck.
“He stunk really bad,” she said. “He was dirty.” She told him to put his clothes in the washer.
“He asked me to go into his work van and get his shaving kit. There was a pair of panties, foil and a straw. It looked like he was burning dope,” said Cedars.
Cedars said Setliff told her the panties belonged to a friend of hers.
She talked about Setliff’s work route.
“It went through Beaumont and Winnie,” she told the jury. She said he had definitely been in Winnie before because he had kidney stones there.
She talked about why she recorded the phone call for the podcast - it was at the request of the podcast. She described the conversation.
“That Anthony (Burns) had the blanket and his mama washed it,” she said. “Lace and Anthony did it. They did it for money. Her body was black waist up. He just kept saying Lace and Anthony did it - they’ll be shocked when they find out who did it.”
Cedars said during cross-examination that she had heard that Setliff had recently recanted everything.
Later - Evans was brought back up to the stand. She was asked if she had anything to do with the death of her sister.
“No. I had nothing to do with the murder of my sister.” She cried as she left the stand.
1:50 p.m. UPDATE
We heard from Det. Tanner Dryden, the APD detective who was assigned to the Courtney Coco case in 2019.
He talked about a sighting mentioned in previous testimony by Clyde Griffin of Courtney Coco’s vehicle being driven by someone else the weekend she disappeared. Dryden said the person that was picked out of a line-up, who was allegedly driving the car, was a man named Ernest Veal, aka “Prince.”
During cross-examination, Dryden was asked about Jude Wilson, the man who said he spotted a vehicle leaving the abandoned building he believes the weekend before Coco’s body was discovered. Wilson is also the man who drew a silhouette more than 15 years later of the person he said he spotted, and picked David Burns out of a line-up.
There was some back and forth about the date that Wilson originally gave on the affidavit in 2004 of when he thought he spotted the vehicle - Sept. 27, 2004. Coco would have been alive then.
“Based on what he told me, he said that statement was wrong,” said Dryden of Wilson saying the vehicle was actually spotted he believed the day before the body was found.
Dryden also said that another detective put the line-up together that Wilson picked Burns from - as is standard policy.
Another witness we heard from was Timothy Scanlan, an expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction.
He talked about why he thought Coco’s body was posed in the abandoned building in Winnie, TX. He said someone might pose a body for multiple reasons, including: it’s demeaning to the victim, shock factor, revenge.
“The body is easily found. It’s presented,” said Scanlan.
4:20 p.m. Update
Dr. Stephen Norman, a pathologist and former Rapides Parish Deputy Coroner, testified for the defense.
He was asked by RPSO detectives to look at the case in 2016. He told the jury that much of the .32 blood alcohol level found in coco’s body after her original toxicology report was not due to her body being severely decomposed, but rather “a significant amount came from consumption before death.”
He also said that a toxicology report done years later in 2015, showed coco had alcohol, tramadol and ecstasy in her system. In his opinion, the alcohol mixed with tramadol could easily explain coco’s death and believes she accidentally overdosed. He added that the amount of tramadol found in Coco’s system can be described as a lethal dose by itself.
Dr. Norman said he did not believe that the pathologist that conducted Coco’s original autopsy, Dr. Tommy Brown, took the circumstances of her death into account when he listed her death as a homicide.
He noted that when Coco’s original blood sample was taken from her spleen, it is “critical” for a sample of fluid to be taken from an eyeball as well to help corroborate the results of the spleen sample test as they are not reliable for quantitative analysis.
Dr. Norman also took issue with Dr. Brown’s interest in the chewing gum found in Coco’s stomach. He said that the gum in the stomach was unremarkable and that Dr. Brown insinuating that gum in the stomach meant Coco was smothered was “pure conjecture based on absolutely nothing,” and in general Dr. Norman said, “completely disagree with his conclusions.”
The defense wrapped after calling this witness. Closing arguments for the trial officially began around 3 p.m. Jury deliberations started shortly after 5 p.m.
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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