What to Know
- Jenna Burleigh disappeared in 2017 after leaving a bar near Temple's campus in North Philadelphia.
- During the murder trial's opening statements, the defense claimed Josh Hupperterz's roommate strangled Burleigh while trying to quiet her.
- Hupperterz turned down a plea offer in December. If convicted by a jury, he could face up to life in prison.
The man currently on trial for the 2017 murder of a Temple University student claims his roommate actually ended the young woman's life to quiet her screams during a knife attack.
The scenario was laid out by Josh Hupperterz's defense attorney during an opening statement in a Philadelphia courtroom on Tuesday.
Attorney David Nenner told a jury that the victim, Jenna Burleigh, sliced Hupperterz in the hand with a knife while fighting about sex in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2017. The two had met a short time earlier at a bar near Temple's campus.
Nenner said Hupperterz, 29, and Burleigh, 22, had consensual sex, but that the two began arguing after his client initiated anal intercourse.
Photos: The Life of Jenna Burleigh
The argument spilled into the kitchen of Hupperterz's N. 16th Street apartment where, according to the attorney, Burleigh stabbed him. Nenner said Huppertertz's roommate ran into the kitchen after hearing screams, attacked Burleigh and ultimately strangled her to death.
Hupperterz pleaded not guilty to murder and use of an instrument of a crime, but pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence for moving Burleigh's body to his grandparent's home in rural Pennsylvania.
Nenner said Hupperterz's roommate would testify at the trial.
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Prosecutors rebuked the defense's assertions in their own impassioned opening argument before a packed courtroom — where Burleigh's parents and friends sat in the gallery — inside the city's Criminal Justice Center in Center City.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell said Hupperterz, after having oral, vaginal and anal intercourse with Burleigh, took “her down to the ground and strangled her, naked, on the kitchen floor.”
Grenell said Hupperterz punched the film student 38 times, broke a cereal bowl over her head, stabbed her repeatedly after wrestling a knife from her, then strangled her, so severely he broke her larynx.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. You stare at the phone waiting for the call,” Grenell said. “The Burleighs would never have that. They would never hear from their daughter again.”
Hupperterz allegedly stuffed her body into a blue plastic storage bin and moved it to his mother’s home in Jenkintown, authorities said in September that year. Sources told NBC10 at the time that the 29-year-old then used a Lyft ride-hailing car to transport the remains to his grandmother’s home in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.
Hupperterz's grandfather allegedly found Burleigh's body one day after a Philadelphia police detective and FBI agent visited the property.
Hupperterz turned down a plea offer in December from the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, which had offered 30-to-60 years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. Hupperterz could face up to life in prison if convicted at trial which is expected to last for up to two weeks.
Initial accounts by investigators of Burleigh's death alleged a grisly murder and cover-up that are eerily similar to circumstances surrounding Hupperterz's father's murder 24 years earlier.
The body of Octavio Hupperterz was found wrapped in a trash bag outside of a business in the Wyndmoor section of Springfield Township, Montgomery County, in 1993. Josh Hupperterz was 4 at the time.
Octavio died from a bullet to the back of the head, his hands tied behind his back and shoved into a garbage bag when he was found.
Sources had told NBC10 in 2017 that investigators believed the elder Hupperterz, who lived in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, was killed at another location and his body dumped in Montgomery County.