A year and a half after her daughter was killed, Jaqui Burleigh continues to question why the tragedy occurred. Jenna Burleigh, a 22-year-old film and media arts major, was murdered before she had a chance to finish her first week of classes at Temple University in Fall 2017.
Jenna Burleigh’s family and friends must relive the horror of her missing person-turned-homicide case during the murder trial of Joshua Hupperterz, her accused killer. The 15-person jury for the trial, which began on Jan. 8, will likely deliver a verdict by next week.
“There’s going to be no justice because Jenna is dead,” Jaqui Burleigh told The Temple News at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice on Monday.
On some days, Jaqui Burleigh carries a stitched, maroon pillow into the courtroom as a small form of comfort during nearly seven hours of witness testimony each day.
If convicted of first- or second-degree murder, Hupperterz will face a life sentence. He pleaded guilty to charges of abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence last week, but he denies he harmed Jenna Burleigh.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson moved the trial to a larger courtroom to accommodate the growing number of Jenna Burleigh’s supporters in attendance. Her family and friends have remained quiet through testimony — sometimes crying and leaving the courtroom when Jenna Burleigh is mentioned, or when photos of her are shown.
In opposite benches sit Hupperterz’s family, quiet and exchanging hushed words with each other, and David Nenner, Hupperterz’s defense attorney, during recesses.
The defendant sits quietly each day, wearing glasses and taking pages of notes on a legal pad as his family and those who loved the woman he is accused of murdering listen to how she was brutally beaten and strangled to death.
Hupperterz has not agreed to take the stand and has maintained his innocence. On Monday, Bronson suggested that Hupperterz should testify for the second time because Nenner continues to draw conclusions that can only be proven with Hupperterz’s personal testimony.
In December 2018, he denied a third-degree murder guilty plea deal for 30 to 60 years in prison.
THE COMMONWEALTH’S CASE
Assistant District Attorneys Jason Grenell and Danielle Burkavage are arguing the commonwealth’s case against Hupperterz. So far, they’ve called 20 witnesses in five days of testimony.
In his opening statement, Grenell detailed a violent struggle between Hupperterz and Jenna Burleigh after she rejected anal sex in his off-campus apartment. Autopsy results revealed she died of strangulation and blunt force trauma.
On the first day of trial, prosecutors called witnesses who saw Jenna Burleigh and Hupperterz hours before the killing.
Davis Trinh, a senior business and management major who has known Jenna Burleigh for more than five years, was with her at Pub Webb, a bar on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 16th Street. Hupperterz and Jenna Burleigh met there on the night of Aug. 30, 2017.
Trinh left the bar before Jenna Burleigh, and received several text messages from her between 1 and 2 a.m. on Aug. 31, including a message that read “I’m needing help.”
“help,” she texted again at 1:36 a.m. Three minutes later, she sent her last text to Trinh — a message with her phone’s current location at Pub Webb.
Video surveillance from the bar and nearby businesses show Jenna Burleigh and Hupperterz leaving together around 2 a.m. and walking toward his apartment on 16th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
Noelle Sterling, a biomedical science graduate student, lived in the apartment unit above Hupperterz at the time and made two 911 calls during the early morning hours of Aug. 31.
Sterling called the second time around 4 a.m. to report a woman’s uninterrupted screaming. While on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, Sterling told her the screams abruptly stopped. Temple Police responded to both calls, but Sterling testified that they did not stay for more than five minutes during either visit.
Officer Aaron Allen responded to both of Sterling’s calls, and knocked on Hupperterz’s apartment door around 4 a.m. He heard no sound inside, but said if he did, he would have “kicked the door in.”
Later in the trial, TUPD and Philadelphia Police officers and forensic analysts testified about their crime scene investigation. Blood with traces of Hupperterz’s DNA was found on several surfaces in the apartment, including in the bathroom, kitchen and bedrooms. Police found a long strand of brown hair attached to a broken ceramic bowl, an elastic hair tie and a phone with a pink sparkly case.
Jenna Burleigh’s DNA was identified in a blood sample taken from a pair of Air Jordan flip flops in Hupperterz’s basement, the only place her DNA appeared in the apartment.
Around 5:15 p.m. on Aug. 31, TUPD Police Captain Edward Woltemate first called Hupperterz, whom he didn’t hear back from until six hours later. Hupperterz told Woltemate he had “$200 worth of shots” the night before and knew nothing about Jenna Burleigh’s whereabouts.
Jack Miley, Hupperterz’s former roommate and a senior kinesiology major, testified he woke up to Hupperterz cleaning up blood in the apartment around 1 p.m. on Aug. 31. Miley also noticed a cut on Hupperterz’s hand. Hupperterz told Miley he’d drunkenly woken up in a “pricker bush,” Miley testified.
Erik Carlsen, Hupperterz’s cousin, also testified he saw Hupperterz cleaning blood in his apartment on Aug. 31. After helping Hupperterz put fresh bandaging on his cut hand, Carlsen testified he helped Hupperterz move a blue storage bin to Hupperterz’s mother’s home in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.
On the drive out of the city in Carlsen’s car with the bin in the backseat, Carlsen said the two were singing along to the radio and planned a fishing trip. Burkavage presented the bin in which Jenna Burleigh’s body was found to the jury on Wednesday, and Carlsen confirmed he helped Hupperterz move the bin.
Hupperterz stored the bin at his mother’s property on Aug. 31, Robert Hagler testified. Hagler lives with and dates Hupperterz’s mother. Around 11 a.m. on Sept. 1, Avery Tucker, a Lyft driver, drove Hupperterz from North Philadelphia to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, to retrieve the bin.
Hagler began to cry as he described moving the bin with Hupperterz from his garage to Tucker’s car.
“I need to get the hell out of here,” he said.
Tucker then drove Hupperterz to Northeastern Pennsylvania, where police found Jenna Burleigh’s body in the bin on Hupperterz’s grandmother’s property in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 2.
Tucker testified Hupperterz fell asleep in his backseat with the bin sitting next to him on the drive from Jenkintown to Wayne County.
Carlsen, Tucker and Hagler all said Hupperterz acted “normal” on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
While asserting his client’s innocence, Nenner claims the real killer is Miley, Hupperterz’s former roommate.
In his opening argument, Nenner claimed Miley was woken up on Aug. 31, 2017, by a physical fight between Hupperterz and Jenna Burleigh, who allegedly attacked Hupperterz after he attempted anal intercourse. Nenner said Miley strangled Jenna Burleigh to death in an effort to protect his roommate.
“I never touched that woman,” Miley told jurors when he took the stand last week.
On Monday, Benjamin Levin, a forensic analyst for PPD, testified that Miley’s DNA was not identified in any of the blood samples taken from his and Hupperterz’s apartment or on Jenna Burleigh’s body, where analysts found several matches to Hupperterz’s DNA.
Prosecutors also showed the jury the Pennsylvania State Police’s photos of Burleigh’s body inside the blue bin. Her body had bruises and marks along the neck, and her head was visibly bloody. State troopers also found a brown, heeled bootie, which appeared to be the complement to the shoe found in Miley’s bedroom.
Miley testified he and Hupperterz planned to “pick up some girls” on Aug. 30, 2017. The two drank at Maxi’s on Liacouras Walk before moving to Pub Webb. Over the course of the night, Miley testified he drank 12 to 15 beers and six shots of liquor, smoked marijuana from an oil vapor pen and took one milligram of Alprazolam, or Xanax, an anxiety medication.
Miley maintains he left Pub Webb before Hupperterz, which was confirmed by Halle Benson, a former Pub Webb bartender and 2017 sport and recreation management alumna who was working at the bar the night of Aug. 30 into the morning of Aug. 31.
Hupperterz contacted Miley, asking him to open their apartment door after Miley left the bar during the early hours of Aug. 31, according to Miley’s phone records.
“Cuzcuz I’m k ockingthedokrdonn [sic],” Hupperterz wrote at 1:05 a.m. “we’re the fuck u at gota get I. The house [sic].”
Miley testified he fell asleep at home until about 1 p.m. on Aug. 31. Prosecutors argued Miley is known for long, uninterrupted periods of sleep, both when sober and intoxicated.
After hiring an attorney in early September 2017, Miley did not provide police with a written statement until Dec. 8, 2017 — about three months after he was first questioned.
When Woltemate contacted Miley on Sept. 1, he was visiting family in Point Lookout, New York, for Labor Day Weekend. Phone records show Miley requested time off from his job for the weekend on Aug. 28.
Miley told Woltemate he had been with Hupperterz on Aug. 30 and didn’t know anything about Jenna Burleigh’s whereabouts. Phone records show Miley called Hupperterz several times on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, which Miley said were attempts to push Hupperterz to get in touch with law enforcement.
His former roommate was “feeding him lies,” Miley testified. Hupperterz told Miley he was in North Carolina when other witnesses saw him at his grandmother’s property, where Jenna Burleigh’s body was found.
“I honestly don’t know what to expect from this guy at this point,” Miley texted a friend about Hupperterz after learning his then-roommate was the last one seen with Jenna Burleigh.
Testimony about DNA found in Hupperterz’s apartment and on Jenna Burleigh’s body will continue on Tuesday.
Greta Anderson and Alyssa Biederman contributed reporting.