During the murder trial of Corey Burdette I vowed to be strong for his mother Teresa and brother Preston. I vowed to be composed, dignified and respectful at all times as a tribute to Corey. Were there times when my body shook and composure eluded me? Were there moments when tears flooded my eyes, overflowing and streaming silently down my face? Were there moments when I wanted to scream," LIAR" and" MURDERER" and" WHY, WHY, WHY", at the young man sitting to the right of me in plain view occupying the seat of the accused? Were there times I was immersed in the proceedings of our justice system and intrigued by the strategies of the prosecution in an all too familiar court TV kind of way? YES, YES, YES to all of the above!
Each day was exhausting more so than the one before. Being in Tampa, seeing his friends being in the presence of his family and just simply reminiscing was a struggle in itself. How did "we" all get here? We are such an everyday typical middle class family. These are the things you watch on the news they occur daily. But in someone Else's lives......
How in the world would I know what to say or do, or not to say or do? What would his mother, my friend need at such a time? I was ready. I understood the workings of the court room thanks to O.J., Tot Mom, and jury duty. It was mostly like watching a broadcast event. I had been desensitized or at least I thought or hoped.
The truth was beginning to show threw after hearing the witnesses it was like turning the pages of a book everything was coming together. There was a time-line being drawn out in vivid colors. Any gaps of seconds or minutes were being filled in. It was information overflow. There was no time for digestion each day was hectic and short. The commute back and forth the recesses the arguments the jury in the jury out, the motions and objections .The exhaustion kept it all from sinking in.
The why was unfolding, jealousy and disregard for respect of person or law. Mere children who had grown up in an MTV and Jackass kind of world where there was no forethought of consequence for bad behavior. Chris and Lauren were in a volatile relationship in which two young people after five or six years of makeup, breakup was just a way of life. Everyone else was sucked in regardless of want. A circle of friends who tried to stay neutral, who seemed to be politically correct as not to offend. They all "hung" out even though they were careful and aware that there was always potential for the jealous hot tempered rage that would surely be present if lines were crossed. But yet it seemed as though maybe "she" was flattered or even excited by the possibility of his jealousies.
They were broken up yes, but they still spoke. Broken up but still involved, just as the many other times they had broken up and ALWAYS reunited. Back together even after crossing the line of dating and sleeping with each other's friends. What animosities that must have been buried in that "circle" of friends. My mind reels back and forth. Was everyone just a pawn in their dangerous game? Surely there was a known potential for danger and violence. He, Christopher had a temper. It was no secret he carried a switchblade type of knife. It was no secret he had pulled it on several friends in the "circle" before. Who all in the "circle" that night knew that Lauren and Chris had been texting? That she suddenly stopped and ignored his texts and calls. Was it because Corey had stopped by after work? Was it because another friend who just minutes earlier had eaten dinner with Chris but was now at Lauren's hanging out? He was now sitting in a "circle" with the
others chilling on her bed. Was Chris angry at his friends for chilling with Lauren or mad at Lauren for chilling with them? Or was he just mad because he was on the outside of the "circle"? Either way it didn't matter, Chris was not invited. He was coming anyway.
A few more ignored texts by Chris's friend, why? They had just ate dinner together now he was being ignored? Now the calls were also ignored. Finally an answer. Hey, what's up? Where are you? ..... Lauren's he replied. Who all is there? ........ I'm coming over there. Disconnect.
So that was Chris, he wanted to know who all was here and why Lauren wouldn't answer him all of a sudden. He seemed pissed. Lauren-"go lock the door." Hey I'm leaving, said the friend. I don't want any drama tonight, I'm not about to be hearing all this. Another member of the "circle", says "me too man, I'm going with you". Now there are only three left, where there were five. Not quite enough for a "circle".Corey, Lauren and Jessica still chilling just sitting on the bed hanging out. No cares, no worries.
The other two boys leave, driving past Christopher on their way out. He calls again, "hey where are you guys, why won't you answer the door"? They hear his aggressive, violent pounding on Lauren's door through the phone. I see Corey's car but where is yours, asks Chris? Hey man you passed us coming into the subdivision you were going too fast to notice. Corey, Jessica and Lauren are still there. Chris continues to pound on the door as the call is disconnected.
Inside Lauren's room they hear the pounding. "It's Chris" says Lauren, "what should I do "?"Well go see what he wants", says Corey. Lauren goes to the door opens it and asks Chris what do you want? I want to talk to you he says. No says Lauren not right now, I have friends over I don't want to do this right now." Whatever" says Chris as he turns and walks away." Is that all you wanted"? Lauren asks. "Never Mind" says Chris as he's walking back to his car which is parked behind Corey's. Lauren hears a thump as Chris passes Corey's car." Hey what did you do to Corey's car", Lauren yells to Chris. "I hope he gets home safe tonight", Chris replies. "Stop being a child"' Lauren says to Chris.
Corey hears the comment about his car and comes to the door. "Hey dude what did you do to my car?" Chris replies don't F'n worry about it. Corey walks to his car, passing Chris to see what he did. Corey looks at his car comes back and walks to the doorway where Lauren and Jessica both are standing by this time. He says to Lauren, "what did he do to my car" as Chris walks by Corey and shoves him as he passes by him to talk to Lauren. She is now between them. Corey, Lauren, Christopher then Jessica all in a line no longer in a circle .Corey and Chris are exchanging words .Chris pulls out his knife and flicks the mechanism popping out the blade. Corey throws a punch knocking Lauren down to the ground and hitting Chris in the face .Jessica sees Chris make two Jabbing motions with his right hand which is holding the knife towards the left side of Corey's body. Lauren picks herself up, Corey lands several punches to Chris's face. There is a lot of swinging and
throwing of punches from them both. They lose their balance and fall to the ground. Corey is straddling Chris. Corey looks up and says call the cops. Jessica thinks "what" why call the cops? Lauren reaches under Corey's arms to pull him off of Chris. She can't. Jessica sees blood on Laurens forearms. Corey again yells "Call the cops he stabbed me, I'm bleeding. Corey then hits Chris twice more as he slumps over. Jessica dials 911.
The girls are screaming a young neighbor runs towards them. He is a friend of Christopher's. The friend stops beside of Chris who is standing in the yard. Chris is looking towards Corey lying in the dirt of the flower bed and says" I stabbed him, call your dad". The young neighbors' dad was a cop. The neighbor turned Corey over and seen the blood coming from his chest. He sent Lauren for a towel to hold pressure on the wound. He looked back at Chris as he said here it is and dropped the knife. Chris then proceeded to his car and drove away. This was an account of the events as given by Jessica's testimony which never wavered. Also by Lauren's statements in the hours immediately following the tragic event. However on the stand Laurens testimony seemed to stray somewhat as to give the impression that the knife pulled by Chris was only done so after a severe beating had been given to Chris by Corey. No doubt perhaps to allude to a plea of self-defense.
There was another statement though, that of Christopher Henderson himself as he was apprehended only minutes after stabbing Corey. Four taped statements in which his account matched Jessica's. A drunken jealous rage Chris said. Nothing more, nothing less. I got hit. I pulled my knife. I was a dumb-ass.
A possible way out, hoped the defense .Blame it on a head injury. Chris may have had a concussion; he was punched in the head. Why his tooth was even knocked loose, but yet he was still alive. Maybe self-defense could work if they could get the videotaped confessions thrown out on the grounds of a possible concussion. Or maybe not being able to fully comprehend his Miranda rights as a result of the blows to his head. Maybe, just maybe.
No not a chance. Why? Because of the forethought of an excellent detective who's extensive almost nonchalant method of questioning Christopher almost seemed mundane and in poor taste do to the circumstances. Questions you ask during any pleasant conversation with someone whom you were wanting to get to know. Where do you work? What do you do there? How is business during the winter months? Which piece of equipment do you run? What are the specs on the type you run? How expensive is a piece of equipment like that? Are you OK? Are you injured? Do you want a paramedic or a doctor to check you out? My, my he's asking Chris a lot of questions, why? To ensure he was at himself to make sure he understood where he was and what was going on. To make sure all his faculties were in order before I mirandized him and took his statement said the detective.
There were parts of the testimonies which drew tears from my eyes, new untold details I assume that made it new again. It had been 15 months since Corey died. It was no longer fresh. We had went to Plant City we had visited his grave last summer. We had cried and grieved. But as the 911 tapes were about to be played my body began to shake this would start it all over again. I had to listen. His mother was unable to. She had to leave the court room as she was overcome with emotion. I had to stay, she might have questions she would want every fact. It was her son, her child, her baby. She would need an account for every second of the last few minutes of his precious life. Perhaps hoping as I was to possibly hear a last word from her angel. There was nothing. Nothing but the screams of young hysterical girls trying to help their friend a member of their "circle". Not a boyfriend in a romantic sense as the media had portrayed it, but just a friend. The
sounds went on forever with the operator telling them to get towels apply pressure. Is he breathing? Yes, she said but very faintly. Is he conscious? Yes, she said but barley. We have the man who did this the operator said. He had been pulled over just a short distance from the scene. Paramedics are on the way, just stay on the phone with me and try to calm down. There's an officer here now, said Jessica. Okay, said the operator. The paramedics are pulling in now said Jessica. Okay you can hang up now said the operator. But it was too late Corey's short life had expired.
Hearing the tape of the 911 call weighed heavy on my heart. My body shook. I tried to block it out; we didn't discuss it as we went back to our room that evening. I was glad I listened because I had facts. I was tormented that I listened because I kept hearing it in my mind. But it was there incase his mother needed it.
Testimonies continued facts were laid out Lauren and Corey had met at a church camp when they were around the age of 11. They then met again 3 months prior to his death when Corey had gotten a job working alongside her at a pizza place. They both had mutual friends that worked and had worked there. They had hung out after work, all of them several times. One day while at work Corey had touched Lauren's back in passing as he walked by her. Chris was there, he seen this. He was enraged with jealousy. He told Lauren and Jessica he would kill that MF'er. Jessica and others in the circle recalled this incident. All Lauren could remember was yes Corey touched her back, when questioned on the stand. But it was no big deal, she stated. She also didn't remember Chris really being too bothered by it .Strange how someone so involved could forget such a matter. But none the less the circle continued without any outward show of contention between Corey and Chris.
Lauren and Chris had broken up shortly before this incident which was 2 weeks prior to Chris stabbing Corey. A new fact which was learned by Corey's family during the trial.
The trial was draining but we were holding up. I don't know how though. There was a lot of updating in the evenings for those who could not attend. Time was very limited and rushed during the whole week. It was coming time for the experts to take the stand. Now the arguments came over pictures from the medical examiner. There were many from the crime scene also from the medical examiner. Before and after shots during the autopsy. Pictures from before his body was cleaned to show the condition upon arrival. Pictures after the body was cleaned so as to detail any and all injuries. There was an abundance said the judge. There were too many photographs and quite frankly to gruesome to show the jury. They would shock their conscience, explained Judge Battles .I was offended, why couldn't the jury see them all. They should see exactly what he did to Corey. We had the option to leave and not hear the descriptions of them, but we stayed. We wanted every crumb of
truth. The viewing screen faced the jury; its back was to us. We would not really see the photos. I was wrong. As the attorney placed the pictures under the projector even though quite a distance away, we did see them, several of them. I should have left the courtroom. I did not. I also saw them as she held them in her hand and would turn to take them up to the witness. I pretended not to see them. In fact I denied really being able to see them. When his mother spoke of seeing her baby lying there on that table, I said I really couldn't see them. I didn't want her recalling them too much. I wanted to forget them myself. I thought even if I did see them I had seen crime scene photos on TV and the internet. They didn't have a long lasting effect usually it seemed. I assumed I had been desensitized. I pushed it back. There was no time to go over the daily trial occurrences anyway. I would just block it out. I understand these things must be. Some things
you just have to deal with, or so I thought.
The trial was over. The verdict was in. Guilty of Murder in the second degree with a weapon. No manslaughter, no self-defense, no accident. It was what it was. A murder. It was a two hour deliberation just as I had said I thought it would be. In the instant that the verdict was read there was a sudden rush of emotion. Vindication was granted! We felt relief down to the depths of our souls. We could breathe again without sighing. Christopher's'family was led out of the courtroom. He was handcuffed and shackled in our presence. Another bit of victory for Corey it seemed, but then came the confusion. In that moment I felt sorry for him and his mother. Now two young men whose lives had barley started were seemingly over. Now there were two mothers who had lost sons. My thoughts went to the discomfort he would be in beginning on that night. He too would lie in an Unnatural place. A concrete slab for a bed would now be where he laid. I felt like a traitor,
as though I were dishonoring Corey by the pity I felt in the moment for Chris. I was confounded by my mix of emotions. I was ashamed for the feeling of mercy I was having. What would I say to Teresa if she asks me how I felt when Chris was chained? Would she be upset that I felt even a sliver of compassion for the man who had murdered her son? I wouldn't be able to lie to her, she knew me to well. She would sense my deception and maybe even my thoughts. I had to bury that feeling and only dwell on the vindication for Corey after all Chris could still see his family. Corey could not. It was Friday our pre-purchased plane tickets had us returning on Saturday. It was over. It was time to pack up for the very early departure back to our normal lives. We had survived the trial. There were tears, but no one completely lost their composure. It went well, I was proud of myself for holding it together and being a rock for Teresa and Preston. Teresa and I were
in our beds in the hotel room both exhausted and half asleep. As I fluffed adjusted my pillow once again I thought of Chris and his first night of many more to come all alone. I was free though as Teresa was fading fast and the topic had been avoided. Then I heard her faintly saying, "Maw. The pet name we both use for each other. "Maw how did you feel when they took him away"? Because I felt conflicted. I thought about his poor mother losing her son and him having to spend his nights on a concrete slab. I keep thinking that if the situation were reversed I would rather Corey be gone than to spend his life in prison. I don't think I could bare it if I had to see my child locked away. I know Corey was saved and that he was carried away in the arms of God, she said. Do you think that's wrong she asked, feeling sorry for them and thinking prison would be worse than death? No, I said with relief because I have been feeling the same way. It's
called love, mercy, compassion or even grace. I should have known you were feeling the same way. That's what I love about you we both said at the same time, and goodnight. Hate the sin, but have mercy for the sinner was my thought as I fell asleep.
Then came the plane ride home. The alone time. The silence and the thoughts. What was happening? Why was I going over every single word and picture and piece of evidence in my head? Why were pictures of Corey's blood stained khaki shorts popping into my head? Those stupid autopsy photos, why were they flashing before my eyes? Why did I keep hearing the girl's screams from the 911 tapes? Just in time, my plane landed. There was my husband's wonderful smiling face so eager to see me. He had arrived 3 hours early to pick me up. I felt relief. We stopped and ate. We had to pick up some groceries. He didn't ask me any questions. The ride home was about an hour and a half. During silent times the thoughts and scenes crept back in .I told him some of the details of the testimony which were new. I would tell him a few then the urge would go away and my mind would clear. Then they would start again. Finally home! Unloading, unpacking and dealing with my
teenage son. Great distractions from such exhausting events.
Time to unwind watch some TV and just relax. Draven, my son is getting ready to go to the movies. It's getting late; I ask which movie he is going to see. He says we don't know yet it's between two. What time do they start I ask? Don't know yet he said we will probably go to the 945 showing. Who all is going I ask? Just me and Dylan he says. I start thinking it will be over too late. Draven isn't allowed to drive after 11pm. That won't work I say, you will have to make the 8'oclock showing. We argue over the time and the reason why. Suddenly my mind goes back to the opening statement of the trial. The prosecution begins with the statement, "have you heard the old saying, Nothing Good Ever Happens after Midnight "? Well I am about to tell you a story of why......... Maureen, the exceptionally well prepared prosecutor goes on to tell the story. At approximately 24 minutes after midnight on December 30th Christopher Michael Henderson entered the gated
community of Walden Lake Subdivision on Country Club drive in Plant City, Florida where he murdered Corey Shaun Burdette. I was in a panic! NO NO NO I said you cannot drive after midnight! I proceeded to tell him about Maureen's statement. Okay mom he said I will just stay home. I was relieved. Then after a few minutes I thought no I can't do this I can't be scared. I told him to go ahead but leave now so he could be home by 1130. It was too late, Dylan had left. He said he would see if anyone else wanted to go. He made several calls then went with an older friend who was allowed to drive after 11pm. I told him to call when the movie was over so I would know when to expect him. We went to bed. Pictures and sights and sounds of the trial began to flood my mind. My chest began to hurt. I kept hearing "Nothing Good after Midnight" over and over. I remembered the medical examiner saying he was stabbed as soon as the fight began. That his chest cavity
had filled with blood. He had blood equal to a two-liter bottle plus a can of coke inside his chest and lung before it started to overflow and bleed out of his body. I recalled her saying depending upon the rate at which his heart was beating and pumping blood he would have died within 4 to 10 minutes of the stabbing. No more than 15 minutes at the longest due to the placement of the 6 inch deep gash through the right ventricle of his heart. The words would not stop. I began to shake and tremble. I then started seeing the autopsy photos of that precious beautiful baby boy on that cold metal table with his hands placed inside of bags for evidence preservation. It was getting hard for me to breathe I began to sob and scream. All I could get out was, THAT BABY!!! THAT BABY!!! My husband tried to console me but I was falling apart, now I was worrying and wondering how Corey's mother was. I was in fear from this great pain I had in my chest. I hoped she was
not feeling this. Would those pictures creep into her head also? Oh my God help me I screamed! Take these images out of my mind and memory I pleaded.
Why was this terror overcoming me? I told my husband to turn on the TV. I had to do something to help distract me. I couldn't close my eyes or even open them without seeing those pictures of Corey. He turned on the TV there was a basketball game on. NO! I screamed and the chest pains and gasping for a breath got more intense. Not that, I said. I can't look at that. The basketball player's arms and legs were unclothed just as Corey's were. Plus it reminded me of him watching games at my house wearing his favorite basketball Jersey. The Miami heat was the team Jersey I believe. Red, white and orange it seemed were the colors. The team on the TV was wearing red with white. It was too much. He changed the channel. There was bright blue in the background colors of whatever he changed it to. No, I said just turn it off! The close-up photo of Corey's face showing the scrape on his forehead had a bright blue background. It was making the images even more
vivid in my head. I pleaded with God to take the images away. The pain in my body was unbearable and trying to escape through my breath and sobs and moans and tears. Why was I doing this? I have attended many funerals and seen many bodies in caskets. But they were made to look pleasant and somewhat natural. All I could think was that although Corey's face was still beautiful and his eyes were closed as if he were sleeping there was still something very UNnatural about the pictures . That was where the pain was coming from. It was not a death due to natural causes. They were not photos of someone I didn't know on a TV screen. I was not desensitized. I was on delay. I was forced to process what I had seen and heard during the busy week of the trial. It was no longer an episode of court TV but real life.
I was having a panic attack, fear, grief and broken heartedness had overtaken my soul. Now I was going back and forth with my mind reeling in every direction. One minute I seen Corey's face in the photos one minute I would see my own sons the pain was unbearable. I had never felt such internal, intense pain that was trying to rip itself out of my body before. How could I stop? Why did I look at those pictures? I had never believed in panic attacks. They were something whiny, weak people used as an excuse to not be strong. Yes I had instances in my life when I was extremely upset and felt paralyzed and could not stop shaking, but this was different. What was it? How could it hurt so badly? It made me think back to the account of Jesus praying in the garden in Luke. "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." (Luke 22:44) What pain he had I thought, as I continued to weep and
struggle for a breath. I heard my husband saying you have to breathe! This immense pain I feel is but a fraction of what Christ felt as he prayed that night in the garden. I now understood how he could sweat drops of blood. It was caused by the release of the tormenting pain he had deep in his soul. This pain I felt was excruciating. More than I could hold in and bare, yet only a fraction of what Christ had felt.
That seemed to comfort me for some reason. My body was drenched in sweat and tears. I was exhausted from the pain. Yet I had a new understanding of an event I had wondered about since I was a child. I have spent the day in fear that this attack would sneak back up on me. Fearing Teresa and Preston would encounter the same. Fearing someone or something would trigger it. Someone asking me about the trial or a simple flash of the color blue. I decided I would write it down and remove all my thoughts, empty my head so to speak. I came across this passage from Isaiah 53, "Surely our grief's He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.He was pierced through for our transgressions.by His scourging we are healed.He was oppressed and he was afflicted.as a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied."
Ironic in my mind, as this is a prophetic picture of the Messiah who would come to redeem us with much suffering. Here we are shown the foreshadowing of his immense love. The drops of blood that Jesus sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane fulfills "the anguish of His soul", that Isaiah spoke of. Thank God he is able to take our grief's to bare. Feeling such sorrow last night I know I would be unable to survive them. Another irony for me is that Corey also was pierced .Although through his heart, the knife blade passed between his ribs and through the cartilage between his ribs. Corey was surely afflicted and in anguish himself as he struggled also to breathe while his lungs were filling with blood. But knowing Christ foreseen it all and bore it already gave me some peace. My heart is still heavy from the UNnatural look of the autopsy photographs and the way his life was stolen from him that night. I am reminded though that as the last breath left his
body he was carried away in the arms of God. I hope that I never become strong enough to bear such great transgressions. I would be fearful that my conscious was seared and I had lost touch with the one who can bear the sorrows and iniquities of us all. I love you Corey Shaun Burdette. May you rest forever in peace, where the "circle" is never broken.