A Jefferson County grand jury has upgraded charges against a Mobile man in the shooting death of an 11-year-old boy during a turkey hunt.
Joshua Stewart Burks, 36, was initially charged with reckless manslaughter in the death of Troy Ellis.
The grand jury, which heard the case on Dec. 10, upped the charge to capital murder of a person under the age of 14. Burks was booked back into the Jefferson County Jail at 3:18 p.m. Friday and was released at 5:30 p.m. after posting $60,000 bond. He was previously out on $15,000 bond.
Obed Ellis, Troy’s father and a football coach at Mortimer Jordan High School, was also injured in the shooting. Troy was a fifth grader at Cahaba Elementary School in Trussville when he was killed.
Father, son, Burks and another man began turkey hunting at daylight that Friday on Ellis’ hunting land off Cedar Mountain Road in North Clay. The hunt was organized by a group that sponsors hunts for wounded veterans and Ellis was acting as a guide. Burks, an amputee, is U.S. Marine Corps veteran and was middle school teacher and coach in Mobile County but he lost his job following the incident. It was Burks first time ever to go hunting.
The shooting happened about 9:30 a.m. off Cedar Mountain Road. Troy was brought down from the mountain and those with him sought help. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
The Ellis family in July filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Burks and Kyle Eugene Henley, who acts as a guide for the nonprofit hunting organization, America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors, which is also named as a defendant in the suit.
Among the suit’s claims is that Burks had taken numerous pain pills the night before, and the morning of, the hunt and was “likely not capable of safely handling a firearm and certainly was not capable of making appropriate decisions with regard to handling a weapon.” That case was settled in October.
Burks is represented by Birmingham attorney Tommy Spina and Mobile attorney Jonathan McCardle, who was previously employed by Alabama Media Group.
“We are disappointed the grand jury saw the case differently than the magistrate and the district attorney’s office that originally charge the case as manslaughter,’’ Spina said. “The events that occurred that day were devastating on many levels and our sympathies are with the family of the young man that lost his life in what we believe was a tragic hunting accident.”
“I am hopeful that the evidence will ultimately establish that what occurred that day was not an intentional act,’’ Spina said. “We pray each day for the family of the deceased.”
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