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("Quid coniuratio est?")
SUBJECT: THE SAGA OF TOMMY BURKETT
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The Saga of Tommy Burkett
Earlier this month, I was fortunate to hear Beth George Burkett, mother of Tommy Burkett, as she related her and her husband's story concerning their attempts for justice and a substantive investigation into the evidence and circumstances surrounding the death of their son.
Although Beth George was reserved and somewhat dispassionate in her retelling of the events surrounding her son's death and it's resulting examination by the Fairfax County police and, later, the FBI, it was impossible, as a parent, not to recognize the astonishing sorrow, frustration, and depression with which the Burkett's must be saddled. Their condition results, not just from the loss of their only son, but from their inability to convince the authorities to mount anything remotely resembling an adequate investigation.
Investigative journalist Christopher Ruddy's article concerning the Burkett case, and his comparison of it to the Henry and Ives cases from Little Rock, Arkansas, appeared in the Pittsburg-Tribune Review back in December, 1995. This article also noted some similarities to the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster.
All three cases should have serious implications for current federal inquiries into the deaths of Foster and Tommy Burkett. But the recent history of government law enforcement's sloppiness, and sometimes lackadaisical attitude toward some crime investigations, leads one to concede that there no longer is "...equal justice for all."
Thomas and Beth George Burkett, were informed, after an 18-month investigation, that the FBI had concluded that their 21-year-old son, Tommy, had committed suicide in 1991.
The Burketts had evidence that their son was murdered, a conclusion supported by a second autopsy which they had requested. The first autopsy had been performed by the same Virginia medical examiner who had performed Vincent Foster's.
Beth George Burkett related the story of Tommy's death this way. Some time prior to Tommy's Thanksgiving vacation in 1991, she received a call from him , in an obviously troubled frame of mind. He explained that someone had ransacked his mailbox at school, and stolen his paycheck. He insinuated that the theft was related to something in which he was involved, and that it was not simple theft.
Beth George was a part-time instructor at Marymount College, her son's school. One afternoon, on campus, she was accosted by three male students who informed her that they were going to beat up Tommy, for some reason which was not made clear to her. Her son was subsequently attacked by one of these young men, on campus, on FOUR separate occasions.
The theft and the attacks were reported to campus security and the administration. She later learned that nothing had been done about any of the attacks. Furthermore, the college's administration had not reported the events to the local police.
On December 1, 1991, Mr. & Mrs. Burkett spent the afternoon at a function in town. When they arrived home around 6 p.m., they were surprised to see that nearly all of the house lights were off. They had left them on when leaving earlier. They also noticed Tommy's car in the driveway.
After entering the house, they called to Tommy, letting him know they were back. Receiving no reply, Beth George suggested to her husband that he go up to Tommy's room. Thomas Burkett knocked on his son's door, and opened it to see if perhaps Tommy was asleep.
The light in Tommy's room was on, unlike those in the rest of the house. Thomas Burkett saw his son sitting directly opposite the door, dead. Responding to his screams, Beth George soon joined her husband.
Eventually, through the tears and the heartache, they began to notice some unusual things about Tommy and his surroundings. He had a bloodied right ear , and scratches on his chest and neck visible above the disheveled collar of his favorite sweater. His body was surrounded by towels and such, stuffed around him to prop him up.
It became obvious to the Burketts that Tommy's body had been positioned for them to see as soon as they entered his room. After further examination, Thomas Burkett also noticed that his son's lower jaw was resting on his chest, and appeared to be broken.
Tommy's hands were almost folded on his lap, and on top of his hands rested a .357 magnum revolver. Beth George remembered looking down at the gun and being able to read the numbers on the end of the cartridges. She realized that the cylinder of the revolver was not fully latched, thus making it impossible to fire.
The Burketts then notified the police. Soon after the arrival of the first Fairfax County officers, Beth George angrily recalls one of the officers saying to them "...don't blame yourselves, it's not your fault..." She now realizes that he had already decided that Tommy had committed suicide.
After what the Burketts deemed a cursory examination, including what they later determined to be an unsatisfactory autopsy by Dr. James Beyer, the deputy medical examiner for northern Virginia, they contacted the FBI.
Having felt cheated by the original investigation, the Burketts hired some forensic specialists of their own. They were soon to discover that the FBI was not interested in their findings.
If the FBI ruled differently on Tommy's death, it would contradict the autopsy done by Dr. Beyer, as well as the quickly drawn conclusions of the Fairfax County police. The FBI apparently chose not to do this. Instead, the Burketts were stonewalled by the FBI, who insisted upon conducting a civil rights investigation, not a criminal investigation.
The Burkett's tale is bewildering. Thomas Burkett said his meeting with FBI officials was appalling. William Megary, special agent in charge of the criminal division of the FBI's local office, informed them that the FBI had conducted a "long and exhaustive" investigation and found "nothing to indicate your son's death was anything but a suicide."
Beth George said she quickly interrupted. She questioned how the FBI had reached this conclusion when the family was told repeatedly throughout the long investigation that only a civil rights probe was being pursued.
A civil rights probe of a death, especially one examining a local law enforcement agencies' role in possible obstruction of justice or cover-up, would likely have to include an investigation of the death itself, experts claim.
An FBI spokesman told the Burketts that the agency had investigated the death, and had determined that there was no cover-up, and Tommy's death was a suicide.
The Burketts recorded their phone calls with the lead FBI agent, Robert Posica. On these tapes, Posica can be heard, in an offensive tone, proclaiming that he was conducting a narrow civil rights probe and not a death investigation.
Posica told Mrs. Burkett that he had no desire to investigate the death or even to meet with them. Eventually he did meet with them, five months after the inquiry was begun.
In his meeting with the Burketts, FBI Agent Megary told them they could not see the case file. After they complained, he suggested they should file a Freedom of Information Act request. FOIA requests to the FBI frequently take years. Although informed by a spokesman that this was "...standard operating procedure", the couple decided to forego the attempt.
Despite the FBI's conclusion, the Burketts themselves have accumulated evidence pointing to murder. The autopsy performed for the couple by the former medical examiner for Syracuse, N.Y., showed results quite different from that done by Dr. Beyer.
Dr. Beyer's autopsy had noted a quarter-inch by half-inch hole in the back of Tommy's neck, just above the collar, and offered it as the "exit wound" for the .357 magnum bullet which supposedly killed Tommy. Every forensics expert consulted by the Burketts refuted this as impossibly small and clean.
Interestingly, the bullet thought to have caused this wound was not only embedded in the wallboard in FRONT of Tommy's body, out of position for the proposed scenario, but was left in place by the police and FBI. No ballistics tests were ever performed on this bullet. Additionally, there was no gunpowder residue in Tommy's mouth, the supposed entry location for the lethal bullet.
The second autopsy also noted that Tommy Burkett's ear had suffered trauma, indicating that he may have been beaten. And, as Thomas Burkett had suspected, his son's lower jaw was fractured. This injury, along with the scratches on his chest, are inconsistent with suicide.
The first autopsy, conducted by Beyer reported no such findings. The second autopsy also discovered Tommy Burkett's lungs had never been dissected, despite Dr. Beyer's claim in his report that he had performed that operation .
Equally as damning forensically, were the scattered blood stains. The day after Tommy's death, Beth George and Thomas began to notice some out of place items on the first floor of the house; things that looked as though they had been knocked around or tipped over. Then they began to notice what appeared to be blood, splashed on the walls in several locations, in very fine droplets.
The FBI had dismissed the blood splatter as having existed prior to Tommy's death. "...You just never noticed it before..." they told the Burketts. Quite to the contrary, the experts hired by the Burketts identified these same stains as classic blood splatter resulting from an individual being shot, with the resulting very fine bloody mist spraying about. Their conclusion was that Tommy, and perhaps others, were shot on the first floor, probably during a struggle.
Further investigation by the Burketts and their team discovered several other glaring discrepancies in the "official" investigation. Interviews with nearby neighbors uncovered reports of the sound of multiple gunshots originating from the Burkett home that afternoon in December.
One neighbor volunteered as to how she had called 911 that afternoon, after hearing gunshots, and reported their origin as the Burkett address. Subsequent searches of the 911 tapes revealed not only the neighbor's call, but that Tommy Burkett himself had called 911 TWICE that afternoon from his home. NO emergency vehicles OR police officers responded to any of those calls that day. The Burketts also discovered that none of the neighbors had been interviewed by the local police.
Thomas Burkett said he saw one of the original autopsy photos, taken from the files of Dr. Beyer. Beyer later wrote to the couple stating that only one autopsy photo was taken. If true, it is a violation of proper procedure.
Beyer also said he took no X-rays. This troubling aspect of the autopsy seems to be a relatively consistent aberration of Dr. Beyers'. He subsequently claimed not to have X-rayed Vincent Foster's body either.
So, without x-rays or photos from the first autopsy, it would be difficult to prove that the injured ear and broken jaw were overlooked by Dr. Beyer.
The Burketts' meeting with the FBI did not include a discussion of the first autopsy, but one FBI official insisted that even the second autopsy supported a finding of suicide.
Indications of incompetence, as well as signs of a cover-up, were enough for the program "Unsolved Mysteries" to film a segment for its show.
The Burketts insist that the Fairfax police ruled on Tommy's death too quickly, and conducted too little investigation. Fairfax police contend that the ruling for suicide was based primarily on Dr. Beyer's autopsy. Beyer has said he did not rule that the death was a suicide, only consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot.
The FBI contends it conducted an extensive investigation, including 180 interviews, over 1800 pages of reporting, and a thorough review of the Fairfax police and medical examiner's report.
Since the Burketts can't see the FBI file without a FOIA request, they don't know for sure who was interviewed during the FBI investigation.
Since their last unsatisfactory meeting with the FBI, the Burketts have contacted every official and congressman whom they thought could be of help. Congressman William Clinger did call for a hearing with the FBI about the Burkett's allegations. While he did conduct interviews with the FBI agents involved, the Burketts and their investigators were not allowed in the hearing room at that time, nor were they given the opportunity to present their case in the hearing. Beth George said she believes that Clinger has dropped any plans to proceed further.
Thomas and Beth George's remaining hope for justice, at this point, appears to be with Senator Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee. As of now, he at least has not dismissed them out of hand.
The Burketts have reached the conclusion that their son Tommy had become some sort of informant for the DEA. They believe that his death was the result of a hit, they're just not sure from which side of the drug war.
From the evidence they have gathered, the couple is convinced that as many as two other people were shot in their home that afternoon, in a struggle that resulted in Tommy's death. They also believe that his body was positioned as it was, not to imitate a suicide, but as a warning of some sort.
They are also thoroughly convinced of not only incompetence on the part of some of the Fairfax County officials and the FBI, but also of a cover-up of the ensuing investigation by these same agencies.
One could scarcely imagine such incidents occurring in the United States in days past. Today, unfortunately, this story is only one of an ever increasing number of unbelievable direct and indirect assaults on the citizenry by agencies of the government, with nowhere to look for justice or retribution.
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