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‘Truly Evil’ N.C. Dad Sentenced to Death for ‘Especially Heinous, Atrocious, and Cruel’ Murder of Teen Daughter

Zaria Burgess, Joshua Lee Burgess

Zaria Burgess, Joshua Lee Burgess

A 35-year-old man in North Carolina was sentenced to death on Friday for torturing, raping, and brutally murdering his 15-year-old daughter in 2019. A Union County jury deliberated for approximately three hours before handing down the death sentence to Joshua Lee Burgess for the horrific slaying of Zaria Joshalyn Burgess, prosecutors announced.

The same jury had previously found Burgess guilty on one count of first-degree murder, one count of statutory rape, one count of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and three counts of statutory sex offense. He was sentenced to an additional minimum of 76 years behind bars for those offenses.

Under North Carolina law, a jury must unanimously vote in favor of the death penalty, otherwise the defendant will be sentenced to life in prison.

Zaria, who lived with her biological mother, had been visiting her father for the weekend at his home located in the 5100 block of Hampton Meadows Road in August 2019 when Burgess subjected her to unimaginable horrors, torturing her for nearly a full 24-hour period before taking her life.

“On August 18, 2019, Burgess killed 15-year-old Zaria by slitting her throat after psychologically and sexually torturing her for 22 hours at his home off Airport Road in Monroe,” the Union County District Attorney’s Office wrote in a press release. “This was truly an especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel killing of an innocent child. This case was emotionally taxing for everyone involved. We continue to grieve with and pray for Zaria’s mother.”

After committing the “heinous” crimes, Burgess at approximately 9:24 a.m. that day walked into the lobby of the Union County Sheriff’s Office and told one of the dispatchers that he was there to turn himself in for murder.

“Once the dispatcher began inquiring about his name and searching for possible arrest warrants, Burgess told her she would not find his name and that he had just killed someone,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release at the time. “Burgess gave further details including the address where the victim was located as well as the victim’s identity.”

Tony Underwood, the chief communications officer for the sheriff’s office, in 2019 reportedly told Charlotte NBC affiliate WCNC that the Zaria’s murder was a case involving “pure evil.”

Sheriff Eddie Cathey shared similar thoughts on the nature of Burgess’s crime with the station.

“The details of this murder are indescribable. Every officer and detective involved in this case is feeling the effects of what happened to this child. There is no logical answer to explain why this man did what he is accused of doing,” Cathey reportedly told WCNC. “It’s just evil.”

In a Facebook post following Friday’s sentencing, the sheriff’s office thanked the DA’s office for the work put in to secure Burgess’s conviction. The sheriff’s office referred to him as a “truly evil criminal defendant.”

The last person executed in the state of North Carolina was Samuel Flippen, whom the state put to death in August by lethal injection 2006 for murdering his 2-year-old stepdaughter.

[Images via the Union County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.