On Dec. 10, a grand jury upgraded charges to capital murder against an Alabama man who accidentally shot and killed an 11-year-old boy during a turkey hunt, according to Alabama.com reporter Carol Robinson.
On May 1, 2020, 11-year-old Troy Ellis and his father, Obed, went out with a small hunting party early that morning. America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors is a group that sponsors hunts for wounded veterans. The organization put together the hunt, which Ellis’ father acted as a guide on. In fact, the group used the family’s hunting land off Cedar Mountain Road in North Clay.
Joshua Stewart Burks, 36, is an amputee who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Allegedly, Burks went hunting for the first time during the turkey hunt. The Mobile, AL middle school teacher and coach accidentally shot both Troy and Odeb Ellis during the excursion.
The shooting occurred around 9:30 a.m. off Cedar Mountain Road. The father suffered gunshot wounds but survived. However, Troy – a fifth-grader at Cahaba Elementary School in Trussville – died at the scene. The other men carried the 11-year-old down the mountain to seek help, but it was too late.
Burks turned himself in to authorities a few days later after police issued a warrant for his arrest. Officials originally charged Burks with reckless manslaughter following the incident. But, a Jefferson County grand jury recently increased the charges to capital murder of a person under 14 years old.
Subsequently, authorities booked Burks back into the Jefferson County Jail and released him about two hours later after posting bond. His initial bond was $15,000, but officials increased it to $60,000 when the grand jury increased his charges.
Capital Murder Upgrade Disappoints Burks’ Attorneys
In July, the Ellis family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Burks and another man. Another guide who worked with the wounded military veterans’ hunting group, Kyle Eugene Henley, is also named in the lawsuit.
The Ellis family’s lawsuit claims that Burks had taken multiple pain pills the night before the hunt. In addition, the suit claims that he took more the morning of the hunt. It said he was “likely not capable of safely handling a firearm and certainly was not capable of making appropriate decisions with regard to handling a weapon.” In October, the family settled their lawsuit against the defendants.
Mobile attorney Jonathan McCardle and Birmingham attorney Tommy Spina have represented Burks’ cases. Spina said they are disappointed by the grand jury’s recent upgraded charges to capital murder.
“We are disappointed the grand jury saw the case differently than the magistrate and the district attorney’s office that originally charged the case as manslaughter,’’ Spina explained. “The events that occurred that day were devastating on many levels. Our sympathies are with the family of the young man that lost his life in what we believe was a tragic hunting accident.”
“I am hopeful that the evidence will ultimately establish that what occurred that day was not an intentional act,’’ Spina continued. “We pray each day for the family of the deceased.”