John Michael Shirley was 53 when Chantilly's Anthony Lee Burdis, then 38, decided he should die. On Nov. 3, 2005, Burdis shot Shirley three times and stabbed him 19 times.
"This crime was senseless, selfish, cruel and heinously violent," said Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh at Burdis' sentencing last week in Fairfax County Circuit Court. "And it ripples through the whole Shirley family, and the defendant's family, too. When you do something like this, you deserve to lose your freedom."
Judge M. Langhorne Keith agreed and sentenced Burdis to life plus 23 years in prison. Still, it's small comfort to Shirley's loved ones.
"The defendant's family can always visit him," said Morrogh. "The Shirley family can only visit John's grave. The defendant's family can talk to him. Shirley's family can only talk about him."
On June 12 in Circuit Court, Burdis pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and malicious wounding. He returned Nov. 16 for sentencing, with his relatives sitting in the first row of the courtroom. Members of Shirley's family filled the next two rows, wore buttons with his photo and held hands during the proceedings.
At the time of the murder, Burdis lived in the 13200 block of Leafcrest Lane in Chantilly's Shenandoah Crossing apartments. The murder occurred in the Fair Lakes home of his ex-girlfriend.
The woman, now 40, is a single mother of a 16-year-old son. She works in new-home sales and began dating Burdis in July 2004. He lived in Louisiana then but, after losing his job in summer 2005, moved into her condominium in Fair Lakes.
She soon realized it was a mistake, said Morrogh, because he was moody, drank too much and was jealous of her son. By the end of July, she told him to leave. But Burdis said he was broke and couldn't go yet.
He finally left, the end of September, and the woman met Shirley, an assistant superintendent for a construction company. The two started a relationship; but a month later, Burdis returned. Confronting the couple in bed together in her home in The Gates of Fair Lakes condominiums, he threatened to kill Shirley.
The woman testified about it on Thursday, Nov. 16, at Burdis' sentencing. "In the early morning hours of Oct. 30, Anthony had broken in, and John told him no woman was worth going to jail over," she said. "We thought Anthony understood the magnitude of his actions."
Sadly, that wasn't the last they heard of him. Afraid of his temper, the woman agreed to Burdis a few days later at a restaurant in Greenbriar to give him his mail and get back her house key. But, said Morrogh, Burdis told her, "I'm gonna have to do something to let you know how serious I am."
THAT NIGHT, Nov. 3, was the woman's 39th birthday, so she and Shirley dined at a restaurant in Fairfax Corner. "I was in the middle of a happy life," she said. "John was amazing — so generous with his friendship, his laugh and just himself."
But Burdis had other plans for them. "This murder is almost a textbook example of a premeditated, malicious murder," said Morrogh. While Shirley and the woman ate, he said, "Burdis went to Wal-Mart and was caught on tape buying black gloves and a black turtleneck — preparing to go on a killing rampage."
Around 10 p.m., the couple returned to the woman's home on Fair Crest Court. Unbeknownst to them, Burdis had smashed a back window to gain entry and suddenly confronted the woman in her bathroom with a gun. He then walked her and Shirley downstairs at gunpoint.
They made a run for it outside, but Burdis quickly forced them back inside. "Then he hit Shirley in the face with the gun and pistol-whipped [the woman] on her left cheek," said Morrogh.
"I begged him to think about my son and about his daughter [in Louisiana] who's 6 now," she said. "I begged him, on my knees, to think about what he was doing, and he showed no mercy. He had no concern for John's and my welfare — or his family's."
Telling the frightened man and woman, "I'm in control now," Burdis then set about ending Shirley's life. As for malice, said Morrogh, Burdis shot Shirley three times in the back and stabbed him five times in the head and 14 times in the torso. Shirley also sustained five, blunt-force traumas to his head, three to his torso and two to his extremities.
"A gun wasn't enough," said Morrogh. "He had to stab this poor man." The prosecutor said Burdis brought the gun with him and took the knife from the woman's kitchen. She ran upstairs to the bathroom and, while there, she heard Shirley say, "No, no, no," followed by several gunshots. Shirley pleaded for his life, said Morrogh, and "this defendant answered with violence."
Then Burdis went after the woman, who'd managed to call the police after locking herself in the bathroom. Full of fury, he picked the lock and shot her in the head. "It's a miracle the bullet only grazed her," said Morrogh. "She played dead, and he stood over her and stabbed her in the neck and chest."
By this time, neighbors who'd heard the screaming and gunshots also called the police. Burdis had fled, and the woman made her way to Shirley, who'd staggered outside and fallen face down onto the sidewalk. She held his hand until authorities arrived.
She suffered a broken cheekbone and other fractures, plus permanent scarring, because of Burdis' attack. In court on Nov. 16, she told Judge Keith she had to move from her home because it was a crime scene and a reminder of what happened.
"I ALMOST lost my job because it was so hard to cope," she said. "I lost a year with my son because I wasn't the mother I was before. And my family and friends have borne the burden with me." She said she can't look at her scar without remembering those horrific events.
"But it would be a little more bearable if John were here," said the woman. "He was a good man — a really good guy, funny and smart, and all the things you'd wish for in a friend, father, son or boyfriend — and it hurts."
Shortly after the crime, police found Burdis walking behind the nearby Fair Lakes Shopping Center and arrested him. According to Morrogh, Burdis had large bloodstains on his pants legs. He waived his Miranda rights and told homicide Det. David Allen that he was angry.
Burdis' older sister, Pauline Holly, called him a "kind, thoughtful and calm person who really cared about his family and friends." Burdis' uncle, Claudell Williams, called the tragedy "totally inconsistent" with his usual behavior.
Speaking on behalf of Shirley's 88-year-old mother, seven brothers and sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers and "a large part of Rochester, Ind., John's hometown," was his younger brother Paul of Albuquerque, N.M.
He told Burdis what his brother meant to him and how much he missed talking with him about the Chicago Bears and White Sox, sharing a joke or just reminiscing about their past together. "I've kept his telephone number in my cell phone," he said. "Each day, I wish I could hear his voice on the other end of the phone or see him walk in the door. I wish I had one minute — just one — to look into his eyes, see his warm smile, hear his laughter and capture a bear hug from him, one last time."
"A piece of my heart left with him when you took him away from us — and I will never be the same," said Paul Shirley. "Because of your actions, John's loved ones, family and friends have been given their own lifelong sentence."
He said he couldn't comprehend how Burdis could have "such hatred, malice and disrespect for life to commit such a despicable crime." He asked Burdis what gave him the right to take John away from those who loved him, and to inflict such pain on the woman.
"On that fateful night, you had several opportunities to turn away from these brutal crimes, to think about what you were about to do," said Paul Shirley. "But you chose to end John's life, attempt the same fate for [the woman] and change your life — as well as your daughter's and family's lives — forever. You must take responsibility for your actions and suffer the consequences."
HOWEVER, he added, John Shirley's spirit remains inside his friends and relatives and he'll always be loved. Then, addressing Judge Keith, he said, "Because [Burdis] was mad, my brother is dead, my mother's heart has been broken, my entire family is hurting and struggling to recover, a woman's life has been forever thrown out of equilibrium and hundreds of people are feeling a deep pain and sorrow — an immeasurable sense of loss."
Burdis' mother, Gertrude, said she felt like she was in a bad dream and trying to wake up. When she learned of the tragedy, she said, "It was just like part of me died, and I got down on my knees and asked God to be with that family. I want to [tell them] I'm very sorry this happened, and I wish I could take the pain from you."
Listening to Shirley's brother testifying, she said, "I wondered who he was talking about. I knew it couldn't be Anthony." Then, as she told how much Burdis' daughter misses him, Burdis put his head in his left hand and wept.
But Morrogh couldn't let her words go unanswered. "There may be two Anthony Burdises — because no one is all bad," he said. "But there's a line people can't cross, and he crossed it. He had made up his mind to kill not just one person, but two, and for selfish reasons — because he was angry. She didn't want to date him anymore."
Public defender Karen Kisiah said a devastating 1991 car accident led to Burdis' "increasingly distorted thinking" until he just snapped. Nonetheless, said Morrogh, "John Shirley was a good guy who didn't deserve to die."
Burdis then apologized for the pain he caused. Although state sentencing guidelines for murder call for 24-40 years in prison, Keith — stressing this crime's "viciousness and senselessness" — deviated upwards.
"You committed a terrible crime and you'll have to pay a terrible price," he told Burdis. He then sentenced him to the maximum possible: Life in prison without parole, for murder; 20 years for malicious wounding and three years for the firearm charge — all running consecutively.
Afterward, the woman called it just, but lamented that "so many lives are broken." Eyes wet with tears, Shirley's mother, Marietta, was pleased with the outcome, but said the whole thing was "tragic to both families."
"We came here looking for justice, and we couldn't have asked for anything more," said Paul Shirley.
Agreeing, Morrogh said the judge "hit a grand slam" with this sentence. After all, said the prosecutor, "Burdis had time to think about what he was doing; and at every opportunity, he chose evil over good."