Did Ricardo Burks participate in the murder of three reputed drug dealers and later turn the murder weapon on his brother-in-law during a cocaine-induced killing spree?
Did Burks, "paralyzed" with fear, watch his brother-in-law murder the three young men and then take his brother-in-law's life in self-defense?
A Baltimore Circuit Court jury was grappling with those questions today. Seven days of testimony in Burks' trial ended yesterday. Judge Ellen L. Hollander sent the jury home at 7:40 last night after it had deliberated about two hours.
Burks, 31, is accused of helping murder three young men and killing his brother-in-law, Marvin Willis 3rd, during a 48-hour cocaine binge that began April 18 in Baltimore.
Burks, an electrician and father of five children, blamed the three murders on Willis. Burks testified that Willis became angry after they had been sold bad cocaine earlier by a dealer.
In closing arguments yesterday, prosecutor Rex Schultz portrayed Burks as a liar. "He shifted all of his acts and motives to Willis," Schultz said. "The dead can tell no tales."
The state's circumstantial case was built around toxicological tests that showed two of the victims had injected potentially lethal doses of heroin moments before being shot and that one of them would have lost consciousness seconds after injecting the drug.
On the stand, Burks said he saw no one inject heroin after the three visitors arrived at Willis' home on Yale Avenue. The defendant said Willis sprayed the basement with 9mm gunfire after seeing that one of the visitors was armed.
"The defense has to labor mightily to get the heroin out of this case," Schultz said. "I think this defendant tried to con his own lawyer. . . ."
Bridget Shepherd, a public defender representing Burks, suggested that the toxicological tests on the victims could have been botched. She noted that no heroin or needles to inject it were found.
Burks already is serving a 40-year sentence for kidnapping and robbing a couple in Owings Mills three days after the slayings.