By Karen Hall
A convicted murderer was sentenced to life plus 15 years in Circuit Court this week, almost five months after his trial.
A jury found Phillip Burgess, 34, of Lewisburg, guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and aggravated assault after a two-and-a-half day trial in June.
Burgess fatally shot Joey Perryman, 48, on Aug. 7, 2011, at No. 7, Martin Street Apartments. He wounded Jordan Beavers, 16, and put Hunter Keel, 14, in fear for his life.
He was also charged with aggravated assault on Jeanette Belew, but was found not guilty of this.
Burgess was due to be sentenced in August, but at that sentencing hearing it was revealed Burgess' family had retained a lawyer to replace attorneys from the Public Defender's Office who represented him at the trial. The new lawyer, Rob Dalton, had to be provided with a transcript of the trial, and then he insisted the psychiatrist who examined Burgess testify at the sentencing hearing.
Dr. John Garrison confirmed he had talked to Burgess after his arrest, and wrote a letter stating Burgess did "appear to have a basis for a claim of diminished capacity."
"Would you word it the same way now?" asked Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard.
"I might change one word," Garrison said, clarifying he would change "basis" to "argument." The doctor said Burgess was diagnosed at Centerstone in December 2010 with agoraphobia with panic disorder and clinical depression without psychosis.
"Both of these could be used to question his capacity," Garrison said in response to Dalton's cross examination.
Dalton asked the doctor about Burgess' mental and emotional development age. Garrison refused to state a number, but said Burgess had an "emotional personality disorder to do with his upbringing," and noted his lack of social skills.
Barnard and Dalton agreed the only punishment for first-degree murder is life in prison, but argued over whether the sentences for attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault should run in addition to, or at the same time as, the life sentence.
"These are crimes against persons," Barnard said. "He took one person's life. The sentences should run consecutive."
"I don't believe consecutive sentences are appropriate," said Dalton. "The proof is not that Mr. Burgess is a dangerous person. He was placed in a situation, and he reacted. Take his mental and emotional impairment into account. Mentally and emotionally his development does not match his (chronological) age."
"Dr. Garrison did not say he had diminished capacity," Barnard said. "The state is still asking for consecutive sentences."
Agreeing, for the most part, with the prosecutor, Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler said Burgess' psychiatric diagnoses did not significantly reduce his culpability.
Further, the judge said, just because Burgess had no prior record did not mean he was not a dangerous offender.
"The sentence is justly deserved in relation to the seriousness of these offenses," said Crigler, sentencing Burgess to life in prison for the first-degree murder, followed by an additional 15 years for the attempted first-degree murder. The three-year sentence for aggravated assault will run at the same time as the others.
Dalton has 30 days to file a new trial motion for Burgess, and will be back in court to argue this on Dec. 5.