An Alabama grand jury has upped charges against a middle school teacher and U.S. Marine Corps veteran involved in the May 1 shooting death of an 11-year-old boy during a turkey hunt.
Joshua Stewart Burks, 36, was out hunting with fifth grader Troy Ellis and his dad, Obed Ellis, along with another man, that morning when the shooting occurred, killing the boy and injuring his father. Burks was initially charged with reckless manslaughter in the death of the child.
However, as of this month, he is now facing charges of capital murder. Making it even more severe, the murder is that of a person under the age of 14, which will hold Burks eligible for the death penalty if he's convicted.
In the suit filed by the Ellis family this summer, they claimed the boy's wrongful death was linked to Burks allegedly having taken multiple pain pills the night before the hunt. The suit stated that Burks was “likely not capable of safely handling a firearm and certainly was not capable of making appropriate decisions with regard to handling a weapon” on the day they set out hunting. That suit was settled in October.
Burks, who is an amputee, had never been hunting before. The turkey hunt was organized by a group that sponsors hunts for wounded veterans, and the elder Ellis, a high school football coach, was acting as a guide that morning.
Burks has not entered a plea to the amended charge. He is currently out on $60,000 bond. He lost his job at the middle school shortly following the incident.
Burks' attorney, Tommy Spina, told AL.com he was disappointed by the elevation of the charges. "The events that occurred that day were devastating on many levels and our sympathies are with the family of the young man that lost his life in what we believe was a tragic hunting accident," he said. "I am hopeful that the evidence will ultimately establish that what occurred that day was not an intentional act."
He added, "We pray each day for the family of the deceased."