One Saturday morning in 2017, Joshua Hupperterz’s step-grandfather had breakfast with his wife at his home in Lakeville, Wayne County, then went over to her property eight miles away to check on her yard, including the lakeside shed, where occasionally snakes creep in.
But instead of finding snakes, George Stabilito told jurors Monday at Hupperterz’s trial on charges of murder and related offenses, “there was a very large blue tote in there.”
“I wish I didn’t do it,” he testified. “But I opened the lid. There was a body in there.”
He then told his wife, Inez — they were separated, but still friends — and she called someone who called Pennsylvania state police, who arrived at her home in a half-hour that Sept. 2, he testified.
Prosecutors showed jurors a photo of the blue plastic storage bin as it was found inside the metal shed: Stuffed inside was Jenna Burleigh’s naked body, her head bloody, her midsection covered by a blanket, her right leg bent and contorted.
Before Stabilito testified, the judge had warned jurors and courtroom observers that they would see disturbing photos. Burleigh’s mother, Jaqui, left the courtroom before his testimony.
Hupperterz, 30, a former Temple University student, is accused of beating, stabbing, and strangling Burleigh, a 22-year-old Temple transfer student who lived with her parents in Harleysville, Montgomery County, after they returned to his North Philadelphia apartment from a bar.
Hupperterz has admitted to transporting her body first to his mother’s Jenkintown garage and then to his grandmother’s Poconos property, but has pleaded not guilty to killing her.
Prosecutors have said the two met at Pub Webb on Cecil B. Moore Avenue early on Aug. 31, 2017, then went to Hupperterz’s apartment on North 16th Street shortly after 2 a.m. They contend that what began as consensual sex between Hupperterz and Burleigh turned violent and then deadly around 4 a.m., when, they allege, she rebuffed his attempts at anal sex.
That’s when Hupperterz beat Burleigh, stabbed her, smashed a cereal bowl on her head, and strangled her on the kitchen floor, Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell said in his opening statement last Tuesday.
Benjamin Levin, a Philadelphia police forensic scientist, testified Monday that sperm found inside Burleigh’s body matched Hupperterz’s DNA.
Pennsylvania State Trooper James Hitchcock testified earlier Monday that he was called to Inez Stabilito’s property on the afternoon of Sept. 2. Other troopers were already there. The shed in which Burleigh’s body was found was down a winding, rocky path from Stabilito’s log cabin home with a detached garage, and about 30 yards from the shoreline of Paupackan Lake, the trooper said.
Hitchcock and a Philadelphia police crime scene officer, Edward Fidler, separately told jurors that in addition to Burleigh’s body and the blanket, two bloody towels, a bloody washcloth, a brown woman’s Guess boot, and an inside-out pair of pants were found inside the bin.
Hupperterz’s lawyer, David Nenner, has contended to jurors that his client’s roommate, Jack Miley, intervened in his roommate’s 4 a.m. kitchen fight with Burleigh, and fatally strangled the screaming young woman. Authorities have not implicated Miley in the crime. Miley denied any role while testifying last week.
Reece Maurer, who graduated from Temple last May, testified Monday that he had lived in the same 16th Street apartment building as Hupperterz in August 2017. Early on Aug. 31, he and his girlfriend were sleeping in their second-floor front apartment, likely with the air-conditioning on, and didn’t hear anything, Maurer testified.
Asked by Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage if about 4 a.m. — when the second-floor-rear apartment resident heard a woman screaming — Maurer had “heard anything, a scream,” he replied: “No.”