Victim: Kevin Burks, 25
Age at time of murder: 17, 10 months, and 13 days
Crime date: November 16, 1987
Crime location: Jefferson County
Crimes: Kidnapping, robbery, torture, aggravated murder, and hate crime
Murder method: Stabbing, shooting, and slashing
Murder motivation: Racially motivated
Convictions: Kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated murder
Sentence: 59 years to life later reduced to 25 years to life by SB 256
That fateful night, killers went on a hunt for a specific black man. When they failed to find that specific person, they set their sights on Kevin, who was staying at his grandmother’s house. The killers told Kevin that a friend was in need and lured him to his death in a remote Brush Creek Township location. Smith and his co-defendants drove Kevin to the remote area where they proceeded to torture, stab, and shoot Kevin and slit his throat.
Smith, who was less than two months away from turning 18, was sentenced to life with parole eligibility after 59 years. His parole date was set for 2051. However, SB 256 mandates that juveniles who murder one person be up for parole after no more than 25 years. The murderer’s parole date is now set for 2022.
EAST LIVERPOOL – They were just 19 years old, attending college classes, when their lives were shattered beyond reason 25 years ago with the murder of their brother, and now Jackie and Jenny Hicks hope to keep one of his killers in prison.
In the early hours of Nov. 16, 1987, four young white men – one actually just a boy at 16 years old – prowled the city streets, searching for a black man they knew. Not locating him, they set their sights on Kevin Burks, 24, who was staying at his grandmother’s home.
Telling him a friend was in need, the four enticed Burks into a car for a ride that ended in his death in Jefferson County, tortured, stabbed, shot and, finally, with his throat slashed.
It wasn’t until 11 days later that Burks’ brutalized body was found in a remote portion of Brush Creek Township, dumped over a hillside like so much trash, even urinated on by at least one of his murderers.
Eventually, the killers were located and brought to justice, with David Lee Hudson, Peter Martin and the teenager, Billy Wayne Smith, each sentenced to 59 years to life in prison.
The fourth man, Robert Carpenter, turned state’s evidence on his cohorts, claiming he did not harm Burks but was too afraid of the others to stop what was happening or to tell anyone afterward what they had done.
He was convicted of murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery and sentenced to 15 years to life.
On Feb. 21, Carpenter, now 49, is up for parole, but Burks’ sisters have launched a campaign to try and halt that, hoping to keep him behind bars in the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Mansfield.
They are following in the footsteps of their late mother, Jeannette Hicks, who also traveled to Columbus in the past to campaign against Carpenter’s release.
The last time was in 2008 when Jenny accompanied her mother, resulting in Carpenter not being released.
“Even though it’s been 25 years, it had its detrimental effect on mom’s health. Losing a child the way she did contributed to her passing,” Jenny said, barely holding back tears as her twin grabbed her hand in support.
“It’s just the two of us now. We want to put a face to Kevin’s family,” she added.
Their brother was five years older than they, but the sisters remembered him as kind and are not surprised he went willingly with his killers.
“He thought he was going to help a friend. I know my brother. He probably never even asked a question,” Jackie said.
They both agonize over how he died, wondering over and over what he thought as the horrendous chain of events progressed that night.
“I want people to remember what my brother went through. It was just brutal. I can still visualize it,” Jackie said, the horror evident in her voice as she recollected hearing the graphic testimony during the four men’s trials.
Recently, when Carpenter again became eligible for parole, Jenny said, she “had a feeling” the decision would be made to release him, and the family learned in September that he is, in fact, expected to be paroled but that they can petition against it.
To that end, the sisters have been circulating petitions asking the prison board not to release Carpenter, and to date they have more than 300 signatures from a variety of people, all of whom “had no qualms” about signing, including several police officers.
They don’t believe Carpenter has been rehabilitated, saying that, unlike his co-defender David Hudson, he never sent a letter expressing remorse for what he did that night.
“He knew before, during and after what they were going to do, and he did nothing. He said nothing. He’s just as guilty as the rest of them,” Jackie said.
“He had a choice to make that night. He let Kevin lay out there with no regard for my family. He may be rehabilitated behind bars but out here, I’m not so sure,” her sister added.
They will present the petitions during Carpenter’s parole hearing Feb. 21, at which the decision will be made one way or the other.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who investigated the murder, has also sent a letter, he said this past week.
“I send the same one over and over, outlining the case from beginning to end. (Carpenter) was there and he didn’t stop it. Brutal, it was brutal what happened to Kevin Burks,” Abdalla said, adding, “They belong right where they’re at. I told Kevin’s mother I’d do whatever it takes, as long as I breathe, to keep them in prison.”
The Hicks sisters said Abdalla and officer Frank Noble “have been a central part of our lives since (the murder) and always will be. Mom felt they went out of their way to find (the killers).”
Abdalla, in turn, commended the young women for continuing their mother’s move to halt the prisoner’s parole.
“I’m proud of his sisters for going on with this,” he said.
The sisters have been taking the petitions around East Liverpool and Youngstown, where Jenny lives, and also invited anyone interested in signing to Google, “Kevin Burks murder petition site” to sign online.
Those wishing to send a letter to the parole board in regard to Carpenter can send it to: Ohio Parole Board, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 770 West Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43222.
Carpenter’s full name and his inmate number, A217177 must be included on all correspondence.
If they are unsuccessful, Jenny said, “We’ll weather the storm. We’ll just say it’s God’s will and maybe he will think about what he did to our family.”
EAST LIVERPOOL – While the family of Kevin Burks is pleased with the Ohio Parole Board’s decision to keep one of his killers in prison, defendant Robert Carpenter’s stepdaughter said he is haunted every day by the crime that has kept him behind bars long enough.
Burks’ sisters, Jennifer and Jacqueline Hicks, testified before the parole board on Feb. 21, as did Carpenter’s stepdaughter Crystal Horan, who participated from Florida via video conference.
His sisters had launched a petition drive to convince the board that Carpenter should remain locked up at the Southern Correctional Institution in Mansfield following his conviction in 1987 for murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery.
Carpenter, 49, will spend at least another nine years in prison.
Burks, 24, was lured from his grandmother’s house in the city by Carpenter and his co-defendants David Lee Hudson, Peter Martin and Billy Wayne Smith.
They drove him to a remote location in Brush Creek Township in Jefferson County, where he was tortured, stabbed and shot and then finally killed by having his throat slashed, according to reports.
Carpenter, also 24 at the time, maintained during the subsequent arrest and trials that he had not taken part in Burks’ torture or murder but that he was too afraid of his cohorts to stop them or tell anyone later about what had happened.
He later turned state’s evidence against his co-defendants, resulting in a lesser sentence for Carpenter than the others received.
Horan, on the other hand, spoke to the board about her stepfather’s failing health since he’s been incarcerated and also about his attempt to become a productive citizen during those 25 years.
This week, the Hicks twins said they were grateful to the parole board and especially to those people who signed petitions on their brother’s behalf.
“We are extremely happy and relieved with the parole board’s decision. Our grateful appreciation to the board,” Jennifer said.
Throughout the trials of the four defendants, Burks’ murder was described as racially motivated, with testimony given that the four white men set out to find a black person the night of the killing. Failing to find that specific man, they set their sites on Burks.
However, Horan said the crime was never racially motivated, that her stepfather is not a racist and, in fact, accepted bi-racial dating and children in the family.
“I know that, at first, the ‘n’ word was used (the night of the murder), but I know that would never come out of my dad’s mouth,” Horan said in a phone conversation.
Jennifer Hicks disagreed, saying, “Our family never made this a racial issue. Peter Martin, David Hudson, Billy Wayne Smith and Robert Carpenter did when they murdered a man for the color of his skin.”
Horan said her stepfather is not like his co-defendants, against whom he testified.
“I don’t know why they keep saying he’s like the other three. Even the plea agreement said he wasn’t the perpetrator. Even the letter Sheriff (Fred) Abdalla gave to the parole board said he wasn’t the perpetrator but just that he didn’t do anything to help,” Horan said. “He would have been body No. 2 for them if he had tried to make them stop. He did tell them to stop, it had gone too far. He lives every single day with the haunting thought of not helping Kevin Burks. Every day, he’s probably thought about what he could have done differently.”
But Burks’ sisters don’t agree with Jennifer saying, “It was a self-serving act (for Carpenter to offer evidence against the others). He didn’t do anything to save my brother’s life. He gave my brother a life sentence without a trial, per se, and he should get the same.”
Jacqueline agreed, saying, “This person knew my brother’s life was going to end, and for that I am glad he will never see freedom. Kevin has no voice, so … I will speak for him and make sure justice will always be served in his name.”
Horan said her father signed a plea bargain giving him 15 years to life, but that his lack of education – and the ability to read and write well – may have led him to believe it said something else.
She maintained that, though the written agreement does state that, he was told verbally if he testified against the others, he would serve only eight years and nine months.
“Abdalla told my mom my dad did the right thing. I remember him saying, ‘Your daddy will be out before you’re in high school,’” Horan recalled.
In tears, she said, “He really thought this was the time he’d be released. He was afraid to call home (after the board denied his parole), thinking we’d given up on him.”
Carpenter suffered a heart attack in 2004 and two more the week of the parole hearing, according to Horan.
During his incarceration, her father has earned his GED, completed anger management classes, attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and learned different trades, according to Horan.
Although the Hicks sisters said previously that, unlike his co-defendant David Hudson, Carpenter had never written a letter of apology for his deeds, Horan said it came out during the parole hearing that he had, in fact, written such a letter as part of one of his classes in prison.
She could not explain why Burks’ sisters had never seen the letter, saying perhaps it went to his mother, who is now deceased.
Asked if she thinks her stepfather regrets his part in the crime, she said without hesitation, “Absolutely. He’s haunted by it every day,” saying he has “totally changed” since his incarceration, going from a 24-year-old partier who liked to drink and do drugs into a 49-year-old man who attends church and reads the Bible.
“He’s not this young punk now who thinks about drugs every day. He’s gotten into trouble once in 25 years, for having a lighter,” Horan said.
And, while Burks’ sisters and his late mother have often talked about the loss of their brother and son, Horan said, “Kevin Burks’ family wasn’t the only one who lost someone that night. I feel I’m losing mine, too.”
She also took issue with current Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin testifying against her father at the parole hearing, saying, “She was 17 when this happened; she had nothing to do with this case.”
A phone call to Hanlin for comment was not returned.
Jennifer and Jacqueline will speak about the impact their brother’s death had on their family during a Black History Month presentation at 6 p.m. Saturday at the United Brethren Church in Pleasant Heights in East Liverpool.
Through his stepdaughter, Carpenter was invited to call with comments for this article, but Horan said his attorney advised against it.