State v. Burries, S-15-1008.

CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska
Citation900 N.W.2d 483,297 Neb. 367
Docket NumberNo. S-15-1008.,S-15-1008.
Parties STATE of Nebraska, appellee, v. Anthony L. BURRIES, appellant.
Decision Date04 August 2017

297 Neb. 367
900 N.W.2d 483

STATE of Nebraska, appellee,
Anthony L. BURRIES, appellant.

No. S-15-1008.

Supreme Court of Nebraska.

Filed August 4, 2017.

Michael J. Wilson and Glenn Shapiro, of Schaefer Shapiro, L.L.P., Omaha, for appellant.

Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Stacy M. Foust, Lincoln, for appellee.

Heavican, C.J., Wright, Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ.

Funke, J.


A jury found the appellant, Anthony L. Burries, guilty of premeditated first degree murder for killing his girlfriend, Tina

297 Neb. 374

Hoult. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment. This is Burries' direct appeal.



Hoult lived alone in a southwest Omaha apartment. After she failed to report for her scheduled work shifts on Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17, 2014, her employer contacted law enforcement. On Sunday morning, May 18, police officers went to her apartment to check on her. A neighbor identified Hoult's car in the parking lot and told the officers that he had not seen Hoult in about 2 days. When she did not respond to knocks at her door, the maintenance manager unlocked the deadbolt to her apartment for the officers. None of the apartment doors had locks on the doorknobs. The deadbolts could only be locked from the inside or by someone using a key from the outside.

The officers found Hoult's body slumped over in a chair with multiple gashes in her skull. She was deceased. They saw blood on the chair, splattered on the walls, and pooled on the floor below her head. Her apartment had no signs of a forced entry or a struggle. No weapons were found in the apartment that could have inflicted Hoult's injuries.

An autopsy revealed that Hoult died from at least nine blows to her head from a heavy instrument with a sharp edge. She had died at least several hours before she was found, but the pathologist could not determine the time or date of her death.

Steffanie Beck was a long-time friend of Hoult who testified that Burries had been Hoult's boyfriend, on and off, for 11 to 12 years before her death. He was also romantically involved with Harmony Howard, who was the mother of his son.

Howard learned about Burries' relationship with Hoult when Burries was arrested in December 2012 for assaulting Hoult. After he was arrested for the assault, he called Howard to tell her that her car, which he had borrowed, was in the parking

297 Neb. 375

lot of Hoult's apartment complex. One of Burries' roommates drove Howard there to get it. As a result, Howard knew the location of the complex where Hoult lived, but she did not know which apartment was Hoult's.

At Burries' trial, the State submitted cell phone records showing text messages that Hoult and Burries exchanged from

900 N.W.2d 496

late Tuesday, May 13, 2014, until the early morning of Friday, May 16. A little before midnight on Tuesday, Burries began texting Hoult stating that he wanted to come to her apartment. Hoult responded that he should stay where he was and expressed dissatisfaction with their relationship. Burries' texts expressed his frustration with Hoult. This texting stopped at about 1:45 a.m. on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, May 14, 2014, Howard drove Burries to a bar close to Hoult's apartment where Hoult and other residents at the apartment complex would often socialize. When Burries returned after 10 to 15 minutes, Howard said he seemed agitated and she drove him home. Late Wednesday night, Burries began texting Hoult again. She responded that her cell phone was not working properly and that she was going to bed.

On Thursday, May 15, 2014, beginning about 6 a.m., Burries texted Hoult multiple times that he was coming over for sex. Hoult repeatedly responded that she was not interested and to leave her alone. He accused her of being with other men and lying about being at work. She responded that she was tired of him trying to control her and threatening her. She specifically stated that he should not have threatened to torture her or say that she "owe[d him] a limb." She wrote that she did not feel safe around him. Burries responded that she had caused his conduct by being disrespectful: "[L]ook at everything you've been doing lately just disrespect after another. All intentional and you think i'm not going to be mad.... You caused all of this and you ain't getting away with it.... You lucky I haven't fucked you up fur all this shit." When he said he could easily come to her apartment, she responded that she did not want

297 Neb. 376

him to; she wanted him to leave her alone. The text messages stopped Thursday morning.

Around 10:30 or 11 p.m. on Thursday, May 15, 2014, Burries called Howard to borrow her car. She went and picked him up, and he dropped her off at her house before going to a bar. She said that he was wearing a striped shirt over a black tank top, jeans, and white athletic shoes.

About 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, Hoult went to visit Adrian Hogan, who was a resident at Hoult's apartment complex. Hogan said that Hoult left his apartment about 1:30 a.m. on Friday.

At about 3:20 a.m. on Friday, May 16, 2014, Burries texted Hoult that he needed to see her and that he knew she was home. At 3:25 a.m., he sent another text message that if her cell phone was not working, he would just show up. Hoult opened these messages but did not respond.

Howard came to Burries' house about 3:30 a.m. on Friday. When she arrived, Burries approached her car in his driveway and told Howard to take him to the intersection that was close to Hoult's apartment complex. Howard said she was frightened by a look Burries gets in his eyes: "[I]t's like a blank look. It's almost like looking in the eyes of the devil." She drove him to the requested intersection.

When they got to the intersection, Burries told Howard that he needed to talk to Hoult. Howard drove to Hoult's apartment complex, and Burries directed her to Hoult's apartment. She waited in her car for 2 to 5 minutes while Burries went inside. She estimated that she dropped Burries off at Hoult's apartment between 3:30 to 4 a.m. Cell phone records showed that at 3:34 a.m., Hoult received two text messages from Burries and that she opened them. At 3:40 a.m., Hoult texted Burries that he should be sleeping. That was the last text message she sent. Burries' cell phone did not receive this message until 5:54 a.m.

900 N.W.2d 497

When Burries returned to Howard's car, he told her to " ‘[d]rive,’ " in an "[a]ngry, firm" tone. Howard said that she

297 Neb. 377

was afraid because he was yelling at her not to look at him and not to pull up next to anyone. She did not see anything in his hands, but she believed that the car's dome light was off. She said that he had grabbed his cream-colored coat from the back seat and laid the coat over his lap.

Burries had Howard drive past his house and eventually told her to stop in front of a randomly chosen house which was close to a bridge in south Omaha. He was screaming at Howard that she was the only person who knew that he was "there," which she understood to mean at Hoult's apartment, and that she would be an accessory if she told anyone. Howard said that she was not concerned then about what he might have done to Hoult, because she was afraid of what he might do to her. He instructed her to drive across the bridge. While they were crossing the bridge, he rolled down the passenger window and threw something out. Howard did not see what he threw out because he told her not to look at him. Howard then dropped Burries off at his house. It was almost 5 a.m. when Howard returned to her home.

As stated, Burries' cell phone did not receive Hoult's last text message until 5:54 a.m. on Friday. The testimony of an investigator who performed digital forensics for the State showed that if a person puts his or her cell phone into airplane mode or turns it off, it will not receive a text message during this period. The cell phone records showed that approximately 4 minutes after receiving Hoult's last text message, Burries responded. He asked why she had not answered his messages. He said that he had done what she asked and burned all the clothes that reminded her of "that night" in the fireplace and that he wanted to move on. He repeated that he wanted to come over and accused her of playing games by ignoring his text messages. His periodic text messages to Hoult continued until 9 p.m. on Friday. None were opened.

Between 4 and 5 a.m. on Friday, Burries also contacted Melissa Eledge, whom he had been seeing and asked her to pick him up. Eledge arrived at Burries' house before 6 a.m.

297 Neb. 378

She said that Burries was intoxicated and asked her to take him to his brother's house. He was carrying a gray or black bag. Eledge waited in the car while Burries went inside his brother's house for 5 to 10 minutes. When he returned, he...

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