What to Know
- Jenna Burleigh disappeared in 2017 after leaving a bar near Temple's campus in North Philadelphia.
- Monday, a state police officer described finding her body inside a blue bin in a shed in rural Pennsylvania
- Josh Hupperterz has pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse for putting Burleigh's body in the shed, but not guilty to her murder.
Jack Miley’s text messages got serious fast: one day, he was texting about Game of Thrones and of singing Ne-Yo songs on a karaoke stage.
The next day, he was writing of cooperating with the police and wondering why his roommate was suddenly saying he left for North Carolina amid the search for a missing Temple University student.
Miley’s texts were part of testimony Tuesday by Philadelphia homicide Detective Thurston Lucke at the trial of his roommate, Josh Hupperterz.
Hupperterz, 29, is accused of killing Jenna Burleigh in 2017 inside the apartment the two men shared in North Philadelphia, then trying to hide her body at his grandparents’ rural property in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Prosecutors allege he and Burleigh engaged in a deadly struggle following her objection to a sex act.
The trial, now in its second week, took a dramatic twist from the opening arguments last week when defense attorney David Nenner alleged that Miley was in fact the killer. He has since built Hupperterz's entire defense around the allegation that Hupperterz indeed began fighting with Burleigh early on the morning of Aug. 31, 2017, after the young woman grew angry with his advances.
But it was Miley, Nenner has argued, who stirred from his sleep and strangled Burleigh to keep her from screaming in the apartment the two men shared. Miley testified earlier in the trial that he fell asleep long before violence broke out between Hupperterz and Burleigh, and that he didn't wake up until 1 p.m. later that day.
Lucke went through all the texts and phone calls of both Miley and Hupperterz in the two days after Burleigh disappeared, and prosecutors appeared to make the case that none of Miley's messages or calls suggested he had any knowledge or involvement in the slaying.
But the day's most emotional testimony came in the afternoon.
The Philadelphia Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Samuel Gulino, testified for more than an hour, giving a blow-by-blow accounting of the "extensive injuries" Burleigh had all over her body. The young woman's family, including her mother and father, have been to the trial every day. Besides the Bucks County couple has been neighbors and friends of the victim. Throughout Gulino's rundown of the many bruises, lacerations, cuts and stab wounds across Burleigh's body, the contingent cried or tried to fight back tears.
Burleigh's father sat front row, as he has every day, though his wife did not stay in the courtroom during Gulino's testimony.
After Gulino, the homicide detective Lucke retook the stand to finish recounting the calls and messages on the phones of Hupperterz and Miley.
Among the call and text logs were conversations he had with Temple police and Hupperterz. Miley in one text told a friend that he was fully cooperating with police.
But before his texts took a serious turn Sept. 1, Miley had texted a friend on Aug. 31: "I was trashed last night. LOL. I was singing Ne-Yo on karaoke at Pub Webb."
A short time later, still reminiscing about the previous night of drinking, he texted the same friend, "Josh woke up in a thorn bush."
"LOL. Where’s the thornbush?" His friend asked in response.
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"How’s he looking?" The friend continued.
"Looks like he’s been stabbed," Miley texted back. “He’s at Urgentcare. You could see bone."
Prosecutors have alleged Hupperterz made up the thorn bush story to distract from a bloody hand injury, alleged to have occurred while fighting with Burleigh, and to explain blood around the apartment that Miley found when he woke up.
Hupperterz already pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence for moving Burleigh's body to his grandparents' house at the onset of the trial. But he has pleaded not guilty to murder and using an instrument of a crime.
Uncertainty still surrounds what, if any, the defense attorney Nenner will mount after the prosecution rests its case, which is expected to happen Wednesday morning.
Nenner declined to say Tuesday if the defendant would take the stand. But Nenner also pressed a new potential witness for the defense: an outside pathology expert who would testify about the state of mind Miley was in at the time of Burleigh’s slaying.
Nenner has pinned his arguments for reasonable doubt on the notion that Miley was so intoxicated from the combination of Xanax, beer and whisky that he killed Burleigh, as she and Hupperterz fought, and that he doesn’t remember it.
Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson has demanded that Nenner provide some evidence that Miley could have done that, whether it's Hupperterz taking the stand and testifying or through another witness who would say Miley has a history of “blackouts” from a toxic mix of drugs and booze.
Nenner said late Tuesday afternoon that he would provide the court and prosecutors a report from an expert pathologist that shows Miley could have killed and not remembered.
Bronson seemed disinclined to allow a pathologist as a witness for the defense, but told the lawyers, "Let me see the report."
Assistant District Attorneys Jason Grennel and Danielle Barkavage argued the report and the pathologist should not be allowed at such a late stage of the trial.
Still, Bronson reiterated, "Let me see the report" before ruling.