Burks Pleads Guilty to Murder in 2013 Yorktown Square Shooting

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William E. Burks (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)
William E. Burks (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)

A York County man will be headed back to prison after pleading guilty Thursday to a 2013 shooting that left a 23-year-old man dead.

William Edward Burks II had been scheduled for trial next month in York-Poquoson Circuit Court on felony charges of second degree murder, use of a firearm in a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and wearing body armor while committing a crime.

His plea deal, which Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk accepted, had prosecutors drop the possession of a firearm and body armor charges.

Burks, who is 31, faces a maximum of 45 years in prison on the charges. Preliminary sentencing guidelines suggest a high-end sentence of almost 26 years, and as part of the plea deal the commonwealth agreed not to ask for a sentence longer than the high end of the sentencing range.

The judge explained to Burks that while the prosecution and defense had agreed to terms, the sentencing decision would ultimately be his.

Burks admitted to shooting Devon Coates, a resident of the Yorktown Square Apartments, just inside Coates’ front door around 12:30 a.m. June 24, 2013.

York-Poquoson Commonwealth’s Attorney Ben Hahn said Coates and his wife had been playing video games with a friend at their apartment that night. Coates and the friend stepped outside for a smoke, and encountered two men, one of whom was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The two sets of men acknowledged each other, Hahn said, then Coates and his friend returned to the apartment to resume their game.

Hahn said about 30 minutes later the group heard a knock downstairs at the front door. Coates went to see who it was, leaving his wife and friend upstairs. Moments later, they heard a scuffle and Coates’ cry for help. Both saw Coates and Burks – whom the men had seen outside earlier wearing a bullet-proof vest – struggling at the front door, then heard a gunshot and saw Coates drop to the ground.

A bullet had pierced his heart, Hahn said, and Coates died soon after.

Two days later, deputies combing the area for evidence discovered a bullet-proof vest about 2 yards into the woodline adjacent to the apartment complex. Beneath the vest was a red rag; beneath the rag was a .380 semiautomatic pistol.

Hahn said DNA evidence obtained from blood on the gun’s slide area confirmed it was what had been used to strike Coates on top of his head, and ballistics results matched the bullet recovered from Coates’ heart. The red rag produced evidence of Burks’ DNA.

Hahn said the investigation revealed Burks had been at a nearby apartment earlier, asking where he could “hit a lick,” which is slang for commit a robbery. Others discouraged Burks, who then left the apartment. When he returned, Hahn said, “Burks said he’d just shot the white boy.”

Investigators got a little help in December 2013 from an officer at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, where Burks was being held pending his trial.

The officer observed Burks drop a note, which the officer then seized. The note, Hahn said, was to Burks’ friend and contained different strategies for creating reasonable doubt as to who’d had possession of the gun recovered two days after Coates was shot and killed.

Sentencing is set for 1 p.m. Jan. 12.

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