Jurors in the murder trial of Joshua Hupperterz heard opening statements from Philadelphia prosecutors who said the former Temple student strangled and stabbed Jenna Burleigh in August 2017.
In his highly emotional opening statement on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell said Burleigh, a junior film and media arts major, was killed after Hupperterz, a former Temple student, attempted anal sex. Grenell said Burleigh’s death was brutal, detailing her struggle and violent strangulation to jurors.
Hupperterz was not charged with any sexual assault-related crimes.
Defense Attorney David Nenner told jurors that Burleigh began attacking Hupperterz during the sexual encounter, and Jack Miley, Hupperterz’s roommate and 2017 kinesiology alumnus, strangled Burleigh in their off-campus apartment on 16th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
Every seat of the courtroom was filled for the first day of arguments. Burleigh’s family embraced and some cried while listening to testimony. Members of Hupperterz’s family attended the hearing, glancing at Hupperterz, who sat still and silent.
In his opening statement, Nenner told jurors that Hupperterz only helped cover-up the murder. Miley has not been charged with any crimes relating the Burleigh’s death.
Hupperterz pleaded guilty to charges of abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence, but pleaded not guilty to possession of the instrument of the crime and murder charges.
Tuesday’s witnesses detailed Hupperterz and Burleigh’s whereabouts before and after they left together from Pub Webb, a bar blocks from Hupperterz’s apartment. Witnesses also shared their communications with Hupperterz and Burleigh around the time of her killing.
Two witnesses told jurors they saw both Hupperterz and Miley at Pub Webb the night of Aug. 30, 2017 and into the early morning hours of the next day. Halle Benson, a former Pub Webb bartender and 2017 sport and recreation management alumna, said Miley left the bar before Hupperterz left with Burleigh.
Davis Trinh, a senior business and management major and friend of Burleigh’s, testified that Burleigh was planning to stay at his off-campus apartment after leaving Pub Webb on Aug. 30.
Trinh decided to leave the bar and said Burleigh was with friends. Burleigh texted Trinh several times between 1 and 2 a.m., telling him she needed help.
Burleigh also texted Trinh her location at 1:39 a.m., which showed her at Pub Webb — the last text message Trinh received from her.
Trinh said he woke up to the messages around 2:30 a.m. and became worried, calling and texting Burleigh several times, but received no answer. He fell asleep and woke up again to no responses from Burleigh.
“Are you alive?” he wrote to her on the morning of Aug. 31, 2017. Trinh, fighting back tears, told prosecutors the message never delivered to Burleigh’s phone, indicating it was broken or turned off.
Trinh contacted Burleigh’s other friends she was with at Pub Webb, but none knew where she was or had heard from her. They formed a group and walked around near Main Campus looking for Burleigh, and decided to call her parents when their search was unsuccessful.
Noelle Sterling, a biomedical science graduate student who lived in a unit above Hupperterz, also testified Tuesday. Sterling said she heard shuffling and the sound of gravel moving in their apartment building’s backyard around 2 a.m. and then after 3 a.m., “weird banging… like someone taking a hammer to furniture.”
The backyard is only accessible through the rear first-floor apartment, which was occupied by Hupperterz and Miley, and through a gate leading outside.
Sterling called 9-11 twice that night, first at 2:15 a.m. to report the banging and again when she heard a woman screaming around 4 a.m.
The screams were not words, she said, and the person screaming did not take breaths. She didn’t hear any voices, just the screams and Hupperterz’s dog barking, which she said didn’t typically happen at night.
Sterling’s calls with the dispatcher were presented to the jury on Tuesday, and on the second call, Sterling is heard telling the dispatcher that the screaming had abruptly stopped. She told police on Sept. 1, 2017 she was 75 percent sure the screams came from outside her and Hupperterz’s apartment building.
Temple Police arrived to Sterling’s apartment after both calls. She said they did not stay for more than five minutes to investigate her reports. After the second call, police were at the apartment for less time than the first visit, Sterling said.
Testimony and arguments will continue on Wednesday and could last into next week.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story spelled Halle Benson’s
first name incorrectly.