A Portsmouth man will serve 40 years in prison for the 2013 murder of a York County resident.
William Edward Burks II, 31, pleaded guilty to 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 last October in York-Poquoson Circuit Court.
He had previously pleaded not guilty and a jury trial was rescheduled multiple times before he changed his plea.
Prosecutors dropped the possession of a firearm and body armor charges as part of a plea deal, but when the prosecution and defense learned Burks had been on probation for attempted malicious wounding and property damage convictions from 2004, he was charged with a probation violation.
On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk ultimately sentenced Burks to 40 years for second-degree murder with 10 years suspended, five years for use of a firearm and five years for the probation violation.
“The facts justify capital murder,” Rizk said. “The facts are egregious and your prior criminal behavior is egregious.”
In his closing argument, York-Poquoson Commonwealth’s Attorney Ben Hahn said Burks had been expelled from York High School and attended an alternative high school due to disciplinary problems.
At 17 years old, Burks was committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, a place Hahn called a “last resort,” but he went on to be charged with attempted malicious wounding in 2004. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison with five years suspended and was released in 2013.
Hahn said he had been out of prison for less than 90 days before the 2013 incident at the Yorktown Square Apartments.
According to the prosecution, Burks knocked on the door of 24-year-old Devon Coates shortly after midnight June 24, 2013 and, after a scuffle, Coates was shot. Investigators discovered a bullet-proof vest, a red rag and a .380 semiautomatic pistol near the apartment complex. DNA evidence on the rag matched Burks, investigators said.
Hahn said Burks had maintained his devotion to the life of a gang member as well as an “utter lack of remorse” for the crime.
“He is more loyal to the morals of the gang than [to the morals] of society,” Hahn said.
He called on Rizk to consider Burks’ prior history and declare a sentence that expressed the community’s outrage about the crime and deterred others from committing similar acts.
Defense attorney Steven Barnette said his client went to Coates’ residence with the intention of robbing him and the gun “went off” in the scuffle. He argued Burks did not understand the ramifications of his actions but knows now that restitution will take a lifetime.
“This was a horrible, horrible tragedy. This could just as well have been him,” Barnette said.
Before he was sentenced, Burks apologized to Coates’ family and his own family for the crime.
“I know not today, not tomorrow, but hopefully one day they will forgive me,” Burks said. “I’m not perfect. I’m not a bad individual. We have all made bad decisions and this is a bad decision that cost someone his life.”
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