11th Circuit Asked to Throw Out Fraud, Arson Convictions

ATLANTA (CN) – Attorneys for a brother and sister convicted of buying homes only to default on the mortgages and later burn the structures to the ground asked the 11th Circuit to overturn the convictions citing lack of evidence and issues of mental capacity.

Darryl and Shirley Burk were convicted in November 2015 along with Elbert Walker, another relative, on arson and conspiracy to commit fraud charges.

Walker was also found guilty of possession of firearms by a convicted felon.

During their three-week trial in federal court in Albany, Georgia, prosecutors said the three bought homes took out mortgage loans, then declared bankruptcy and then burned the homes down to pocket insurance money.

But on Tuesday, attorney William Douglas Hall said his client, defendant Shirley Burk, has an intellectual capacity equivalent to an eighth-grader, and was coerced by co-defendants Darryl Burk and Elbert Walker Jr. to participate in the scheme.

“She was a victim and she was taken advantage of,” Hall said of his client. “I doubt she even knew what conspiracy was.”

Christopher Cohilas, the attorney for Darryl Burk,  took a different tack, arguing that there simply “was no proof” his client intentionally set a trailer he’d been living in on fire.

“These are poor people who are in and out of their houses,” Cohilas said.

But U.S. Attorney Michelle Lee Schieber said there was a lot of “co-dependence” that came through with the evidence.

“The jury got it right in this case,” Schieber said.

In rebuttal, Hall insisted Walker took advantage of Shirley Burk, reasserting that her mental capacity caused her to be “easily confused.”

The three-judge panel hearing the case did not indicate when it will render a decision.

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