Trial starts in ’14 killing

By Greg Oliver

Courtesy The Journal

PICKENS — The trial of 55-year-old Clemson resident Deby Lee Mark Burnside, charged with the murder of James Cherry in August 2014, began Monday at the Pickens County Courthouse, with attorneys painting two different pictures before the six-man, six-woman jury.

Assistant 13th Circuit Solicitor Graham Buckner told jurors Burnside used malice aforethought in shooting and killing Cherry, known to friends and acquaintances as “Old School,” at the defendant’s Summey Street home. Buckner said Cherry was at Burnside’s home to cut grass when Burnside gunned him down.

“He cut grass and was sitting on his own lawnmower in the defendant’s driveway,” Buckner said in his opening statement. “While sitting there, the defendant walked out his back door, walked up to (Cherry) and shot and killed him.”

But Ernest Hamilton, the defense attorney representing Burnside, said his client is a longtime Clemson University employee who was nearing retirement. Hamilton said Burnside was assaulted by Cherry and lost control of his emotions.

“There was an intent to do serious harm, even an intent to kill, but his wasn’t an intentional killing with malice,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said Cherry had a history of violence against Burnside, going back four to five years. In one instance, the attorney said an argument resulted in Cherry putting Burnside into a chokehold and “daring him to call police.”

After watching Cherry, in his words, “break up and destroy his weed-eater into little pieces,” Hamilton said his client lost all self-control.

“After the defendant told the deceased to leave the premises, which he didn’t, and instead began to assault and threaten to do more harm to my client on the premises, that further inflamed and rekindled a fire to an uncomfortable impulse by being on his own property,” Hamilton said. “We believe, without malice, the evidence will show he is not guilty.”

Two eyewitnesses had a different account, saying Cherry was seated on his lawnmower unaware of Burnside approaching him when he was shot multiple times.

Michelle Washington, who grew up in the neighborhood, testified that Cherry was always a friendly person and was talking to her at the time of the shooting.

“He was talking to me, looking at me, not paying attention to nothing but me,” Washington said, adding she saw Burnside approach from behind his house and shoot Cherry. “We thought it was fireworks, but I saw the gun shooting him out there. It hit him and he limped over. He was on a riding lawnmower, and the gun went off three to five times.”

Washington said she saw Burnside leave and go inside his home. When police later arrived on the scene, she told them what happened.

“Old School didn’t see (Burnside). He was looking at me — he wasn’t looking at anybody else,” she said. “He was talking to me.”

Hamilton, upon cross examination, pointed to Burnside’s reputation that he “was a good neighbor with no problems.”

Virginia Putnam, another former resident whose parents still live in the area, said she was visiting her parents when she witnessed the shooting. Putnam described the sequence of events in a similar fashion as Washington, pointing out that Cherry was unaware of what was about to happen.

“It happened so fast,” Putnam said.

Putnam said she then saw Cherry lying on the ground in a pool of blood with his hand to his face. She added she “heard no commotion” at Burnside’s residence prior to the shooting.

“I was looking at Michelle while (Cherry) was looking at her,” Putnam said. “I was going to say ‘Old School, Michelle doesn’t have time to talk to you,’ before I heard gunshots.”

Clemson police say Burnside shot Cherry with a revolver. Burnside was inside his residence when police arrived on the scene and surrendered when asked to come outside.

The trial, in which judge Alex McCauley is presiding, was expected to resume Tuesday, but no additional information was available at press time.