Sean Burton was either a peaceful business owner who was forced to kill in self-defense, or he was a jealous husband who hunted down his wife's lover with a global-positioning device and brutally stabbed him to death in a Springfield parking lot.
A Delaware County jury began deliberating this afternoon in Burton's first-degree murder case. Prosecutors says Burton, 43, the owner of the Final Impact car-stereo shop in Morton, used a GPS tracker and a laptop to follow Iraq war veteran James Stropas and kill him with a butcher knife last June as he got into his truck after leaving Dunkin' Donuts.
"The only reason the defendant stopped stabbing James Stropas is because the handle broke," Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Wills said of Burton, of Newark, Del. Burton was arrested minutes later at nearby Smedley Park. Police say Stropas was stabbed more than 70 times. He bled out almost immediately.
Burton was married to Theresa Murphy, who had planned to divorce him. In the meantime, Stropas, 32, who served two tours in Iraq, had moved in with Murphy. But, Murphy testified, she continued to see Burton occasionally.
"This is a classic jealous-husband case. His wife was with another man," Wills said of Burton. "He wanted her back. She was enjoying both of them."
Defense attorney Mark Much conceded that, at first glance, Burton appears to be guilty. In his van, investigators found duct tape, thick rubber gloves, wire ties, a hatchet, a shovel, gasoline and other items that prosecutors say he planned to use to dismember and dispose of Stropas' body.
"When you first hear this case, it's like a tsunami. It's overwhelming," Much said in his closing arguments this morning. But he urged the jury to "think outside the box," and went on to say that Stropas actually had the kitchen knife in his car and that Burton was only defending himself.
"This homicide occurred in one of the busiest shopping centers, on a Monday morning at 11 o'clock on a sunny day," Much said. "Why there?"
Much said Burton was only tracking Stropas with the GSP device because he wanted to prove that Murphy was living with another man so he could avoid paying alimony if the divorce went through. Much offered legitimate explanations for the items in Burton's van and said prosecutors were trying to portray his client as a calculated killer.
"I guess that was on the show 'Dexter,'" Much said, referring to the theory that Burton planned to dispose of the body. "He's a serial killer on cable."
"There's no scientific evidence that Mr. Burton ever touched the handle of that knife," Much said.
Update: Burton was convicted of first-degree murder and faces life in prison without parole. Sorry for the earlier typo on the name (see comments below).
Stropas' mother broke out in tears the moment the jury forewoman said the word, "Guilty."
"It's been a long nine months," Cathy Stropas said.
Burton showed no emotion when the verdict was read. You could tell he knew he was done by the look on his face as he sat waiting for the jury to enter the room. They deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours.
"The jury saw the truth," Wills said.
Full story in tomorrow's Daily News.