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Former soldier goes to prison for racial murders

March 7, 1997 GMT

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ A former Army paratrooper who escaped execution for killing two black people to earn a skinhead tattoo said the case is far from over.

``The state has chosen to blame me for this. So be it for now,″ James Burmeister II, 21, said before sentencing Thursday. ``I’m not conceding. And I’m not going to quit. It’s not over.″

Burmeister, a former private from Thompson, Pa., was sentenced to two consecutive life terms on two counts of murder for the 1995 killing of Jackie Burden, 27, and Michael James, 36. He said he would appeal.


Burmeister, who has denied pulling the trigger, apologized ``to all of the families involved. I know this has been a great strain on everybody.″

But he added: ``A lot of what we saw ... was smoke and mirrors.″

A fellow soldier who waited in a car during the shooting testified that Burmeister laughed about earning a special spiderweb tattoo for murdering a black. The victims were picked at random on the street, prosecutors said.

The murders prompted an Armywide investigation of racism in the ranks. The probe found 22 soldiers at Fort Bragg, including Burmeister and the two other soldiers charged in the killings, with extremist sympathies.

Burmeister joined a racist skinhead group after arriving at Fort Bragg as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and had been singing extremist songs and giving Nazi salutes, according to testimony.

A single juror was all that stood between him and the death penalty.

Lori Caulder told the Fayetteville Observer-Times she went along with the murder conviction, but she would not compromise on the death penalty.

``I was all for the conspiracy charge _ he went right along with his friends, and he was involved. But I still do not believe that Burmeister’s the trigger man,″ she said.

Other jurors tried to wear her down during the nine hours of deliberations over two days. She stood firm.

``I don’t believe in killing someone for revenge. I know they want to make it even,″ she said.

Several jurors expressed frustration with Caulder.

``We thought all of us as a jury needed to send a message ... society is tired of this kind of ignorance,″ juror Robby Moreau said.

Lillie James, the mother of Michael James, said Burmeister’s apology meant little.


``It’s too late for that,″ she said. ``He has a heart as cold as steel.″

Burmeister is the first of two former Fort Bragg soldiers to be tried in the deaths. Malcolm Wright, 22, is scheduled to be tried later this month.

Randy Meadows, who said he drove the car for Burmeister and Wright, entered a plea bargain to a lesser charge and testified against his former friends.