Family: Keep killer 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 – twins Jackie Hicks of East Liverpool and Jenny Hicks of Youngstown – 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.

“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.

The sisters have been taking the petitions around East Liverpool and Youngstown and also invited anyone interested in signing to Google, “Kevin Burks murder petition site” to sign online.

They will present the petitions during Carpenter’s parole hearing Feb. 21, at which the decision will be made one way or the other.

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.”

Gilbert is a reporter with the Morning Journal in Lisbon.