A North Carolina man who admitted to killing his teenage daughter has been sentenced to death after being convicted last week of murder as well as rape charges against her.
Authorities said Joshua Lee Burgess, 35, walked into the Union County Sheriff’s Office in August 2019 at approximately 9:24 am and described the details of the brutal crime to dispatchers.
A press release from the sheriff’s at the time offered further details, “Once the dispatcher began inquiring about his name and searching for possible arrest warrants, Burgess told her she would not find his name and that he had just killed someone. Burgess gave further details including the address where the victim was located as well as the victim’s identity.”
Authorities later discovered the 15-year-old girl’s body at his home. The Union County District Attorney’s office said the father slit Zaria Burgess’ throat after “psychologically and sexually torturing her” for 22 hours while she visited him for the weekend. Burgess reportedly lived with her biological mother.
Court documents show Burgess strangled his daughter before the “sharp force injury to the neck,” which medical examiners ruled the cause of her death.
The crime stunned the community.
“The defendant, in this case, Joshua Burgess is the essence of evil and stole Zaria from her friends, family and local community,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said in a statement.
“While we know Zaria is forever gone to us, we hope that today’s verdict helps to bring some closure to Zaria’s family and friends, and we will continue to keep them in our prayers each day.”
At the time Cathey found it difficult to wrap his head around the details of the incident. Telling local station WCNC at the time, “The details of this murder are indescribable. Every officer and detective involved in this case is feeling the effects of what happened to this child. There is no logical answer to explain why this man did what he is accused of doing.”
A jury took just three hours before sentencing Burgess to death on June 3 for one count of first-degree murder. He was also convicted of one count of statutory rape, three counts of statutory sex offense, and one count of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Union County District Attorney’s Office said he must serve a minimum of nearly 76 years in prison for those offenses.
“This was truly an especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel killing of an innocent child. This case was emotionally taxing for everyone involved. We continue to grieve with and pray for Zaria’s mother,” the district attorney’s office said.
Zaria was a “bubbly and bright” cheerleader and a member of her high school marching band and dance team. Zaria’s cousin, Dytaysha Wadsworth, told reporters in 2019 Zaria was a fun-loving girl who liked to spend time with family and make everyone smile.
Investigators said Burgess pointed to several motives for killing his biological child, but the driving factor appeared to be lust and control.