Siddhesh Joshi (Editor)

David Burnett (politician)

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Preceded by  Jeremy Hutchinson
Residence  Osceola, Arkansas, USA
Party  Democratic Party
Spouse(s)  Sonja Burnett
Education  University of Arkansas

Political party  Democratic
Role  Judge
Preceded by  Steve Bryles
Name  David Burnett
Succeeded by  David J. Sanders
David Burnett (politician) wwwjivepuppicomimagesdavidburnettjpg
Alma mater  University of Arkansas (B.S. 1963, J.D. 1966)
Similar People  Jessie Misskelley, Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger, Damien Echols, Fran Walsh

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David Burnett (born 1942 or 1943) is a Democratic member of the Arkansas State Senate, formerly from District 15, which prior to 2013 comprised Mississippi and Poinsett counties in eastern Arkansas. Before he entered the Senate, Burnett had been a judge. Burnett is notable for being the original trial judge of the West Memphis Three case.


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West Memphis Three case

Burnett was the presiding judge in the murder trials of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, collectively known as the West Memphis Three. In February 1994 after a jury convicted Misskelley of one court of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder, Burnett sentenced Misskelley, then 18 years old, to life in prison plus 40 years. In March 1994 after a jury convicted Echols and Baldwin of three counts of capital murder, Burnett sentenced Echols to death and Baldwin, 17 at the time, to life in prison without parole.

In 2007, new DNA testing became available that was technologically possible at the time of the crime, and produced evidence that hairs found at the crime scene did not match Misskelley, Baldwin or Echols and possibly matched the stepfather of one of the victims. Based on this, all three defendants asked Burnett for a new trail. In September 2008, Burnett denied retrials for all three saying the new evidence was "inconclusive".

In September 2008, attorney (now judge) Daniel Stidham, who represented Misskelley in 1994, testified at a postconviction relief hearing. Stidham testified under oath that during the trial that Burnett erred by making an improper communication with the jury during its deliberations. Stidham overheard Burnett discuss taking a lunch break with the jury foreman and heard the foreman reply that the jury was almost finished. He testified Judge Burnett responded, "You'll need food for when you come back for sentencing," and that the foreman asked in return what would happen if the defendant was acquitted. Stidham said the judge closed the door without answering. He testified that his own failure to put this incident on the court record and his failure to meet the minimum requirements in state law to represent a defendant in a capital murder case was evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel and that Misskelley's conviction should therefore be vacated.

In January 2010, Burnett denied motions for all Baldwin and Misskelley to receive new trials based on inadequate representation during their original trials.

In November 2010 after Burnett had retired from the bench and had been elected to the Arkansas Senate, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered new evidentiary hearings for all three defendants based on the new DNA evidence. The state's high court rebuked Burnett's 2008 decision not to grant Echols a new trial based on the DNA evidence.

The three were released from prison in August 2011 after all three pleaded guilty to first-degree murder using a legal mechanism called an Alford plea, which allows the defendant to maintain their innocence while conceding that there is enough evidence to possibly convict them at trial. Under the plea deals, all three were resentenced to time-served for the murders (18 years and 75 days) and immediately released from prison. In February 2012, Burnett gave an interview stating that he was unhappy with the decision to release the pair saying "I'm not real happy with the outcome. I would have preferred to see them have a new trial", but stood by actions in the case saying "Frankly, everything I did was affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court."

State Senate

In May 2010, Burnett defeated Blytheville Mayor Barrett E. Harrison in the Democratic primary for the state's 15th Senate district to succeed the term-limited Sen. Steve Bryles. Burnett took almost 64 percent of approximately 8,600 votes cast. Burnett won election in the general election running unopposed. Due to redistricting, Burnett ran for re-election in 2012 in the 22nd Senate District. He was elected both in the Democratic primary and general election without opposition.

In 2015, Burnett introduced a bill in the Arkansas Senate that would have abolished the death penalty in Arkansas. The bill failed to pass, officially dying when the state Senate adjourned sine die, which means the chamber ended its business for the legislative session.


David Burnett (politician) Wikipedia