Parties Prepare to Re-Try Murder Case Following Consequential Appeal

In August 2020, the reversal of a murder conviction rippled through the DC Superior Court, touching enough cases that the defendant’s last name became like jargon. Now, parties are preparing to take the case to trial again.

The defendant is Eugene Burns. Nearly five years ago, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder while armed among other offenses for his alleged role in the fatal shooting of Onyekachi Osuchukwu III on Nov. 14, 2015, in an apartment on the 2900 block of Second Street, SE. The homicide was believed to be the result of a drug-related dispute.

Burns was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of first-degree murder while armed, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence and carrying a pistol without a license on Feb. 22. However, he was unable to be present that day and the arraignment was vacated.

DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo requested that the defendant be present either in person or remotely in the months leading up to his new trial. 

During Burns’ first trial, the prosecution showed the jury cell phone data indicating that the defendant allegedly googled questions such as “how to kill your best friend” and “does God forgive murderers.” A pretrial motion to suppress this evidence was denied.

While this evidence may have paved the way for Burns’ first conviction, it also paved the way for his successful appeal.

“Police sought search warrants that authorized an unlimited review of the contents of his cell phones for ‘any evidence’ of murder even though the warrants were supported by affidavits that established probable cause for only three narrow and discrete items of data,” wrote Judge Neal Kravitz in the opinion. “The warrants were thus overbroad and lacking in probable cause and particularity, and the warrant judge should not have issued them.”

Since then, motions regarding cell phone data in other murder cases have occasionally been colloquially referred to as Burns motions in DC Superior Court hearings.

Still, this was not the only issue that led to the convictions being reversed. The Chief Medical Examiner’s testimony at trial relayed the findings of the Deputy Medical Examiner, who performed Osuchukwu’s autopsy. “Because those findings, set forth in the autopsy report and other materials maintained in the autopsy file, were made in the context of an ongoing police investigation of a homicide, the findings were “testimonial” and their communication to the jury through the Chief Medical Examiner’s testimony violated the Confrontation Clause,” the opinion states.

Burns is expected to go to trial in December. He is scheduled for a status hearing on April 4.