Suspect arrested Auburn murder case

March 8, 2008 6:19:37 PM PST
A man arrested after a car and foot chase by police who suspected him in a string of robberies was charged with capital murder in the abduction and shooting death of an Auburn University freshman, police said Saturday. Courtney Lockhart was arrested Friday in Phenix City, about 30 miles from the campus. Lauren Burk, 18, was found shot on the side of an off-campus road Tuesday night and her car was found burning in a campus parking lot.

Police would not say what led them to charge Lockhart, 23, in her killing or divulge evidence linking them.

On Saturday in Burk's hometown of Marietta, Ga., hundreds gathered at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church to mourn her death and remember the Delta Gamma sorority girl with twinkling eyes and a broad, beaming smile.

"As students, I know it's easy to feel a bit invincible, but you're not," said the Rev. Bryant Wright, pastor of the church. "This is a reminder of how vulnerable we all can be in a world of evil."

Several of those closest to her spoke during the service, including her boyfriend of two years.

"That smile of hers could light up even the darkest of places," said Sean McQuade, who attended Auburn with her. "Her happiness was infectious. She lived her life with radiance and joy.

"She was the most amazing person I ever met and she changed me in more ways than I could ever describe," he said.

Lockhart, 23, was charged with three capital counts accusing him of murder along with kidnapping, robbery and attempted rape, Auburn Assistant Police Chief Thomas Dawson said.

Lockhart tried to flee Phenix City police after being pulled over Friday, Dawson said. He said Lockhart's vehicle matched the description of one in a string of robberies. After a short pursuit and a foot chase, he was captured.

Dawson said investigators have a photo of the suspect that was enhanced with the help of NASA, but he wouldn't say how the photo was obtained. "We have the right individual in jail, I'm 100 percent sure of that," Dawson said.

Investigators don't believe Lockhart had any connection to the university or that he knew Burk before abducting her.

"I don't believe he targeted her that long, if he targeted her at all," Dawson said.

Lockhart, from rural Smiths in Russell County, was in custody Saturday with bail set at $250,000, Dawson said. He may still be charged with robberies, Dawson said.

There was no immediate word if he had a lawyer to speak for him; if he is indigent, a lawyer could be appointed at a Lee County Circuit Court hearing Monday in Auburn. The university planned a campus-wide memorial service for her Monday.

Auburn Police Chief Frank deGraffenreid said the increased police presence on campus that began after the shooting will continue indefinitely to "help calm some fears and anxieties of parents."

Alysha Kambeyanda said she still felt safe at her school and hoped that the tragedy will remind fellow students to be more aware of their surroundings.

"I think the people on campus need to be safer with what they do, make smarter decisions about where they go," she said. "I've seen girls running alone at night, listening to their iPods. That doesn't seem like a good idea."

Police in North Carolina, investigating the killing of a university student there, had been in contact with Alabama authorities investigating Burk's killing. However, officials said the cases did not appear to be connected.

In North Carolina, police released two surveillance photos of the suspect in Eve Carson's killing, taken as the man used her ATM card in Chapel Hill. Another photo of the suspect's baseball cap was also released.

Carson, 22, of Athens, Ga., was found Wednesday morning lying on a street about a mile from campus. She had been shot several times, including once in the right temple. She appears to be the victim of a random crime, authorities said.

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Associated Press writer Errin Haines in Marietta, Ga., contributed to this report.


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