Nichols closer to trial in murder case

Those involved knew each other, witnesses say

By Tim Weideman

Who played what roles in John Burroughs’ death last September remains to be determined, but a Riley County District Court judge on Wednesday ruled that there’s probable cause to believe a Kansas City man may be one of the murderers.

Judge Meryl Wilson bound over 34-year-old Anthony Nichols for trial on the charge of first-degree murder. Nichols is accused of shooting Burroughs sometime late Sept. 6 or early Sept. 7, 2013, at the 68-year-old man’s Redbud Estates trailer in Manhattan.

Wilson scheduled Nichols to appear for an arraignment hearing on July 28 at 2:30 p.m.

Earlier that morning, Nichols is expected to be arraigned in Geary County District Court for a Junction City murder case. In that case, Nichols faces charges of first-degree murder and robbery in the death of 37-year-old Anthony Nixon.

Police reports have indicated the two murders occurred just hours apart.

However, Burroughs’ body wasn’t discovered until two days after his death. His body was found naked on Sept. 8, 2013, between the toilet and tub in the cramped bathroom of his trailer apartment.

On Wednesday, Elizabeth Hartman, a crime scene investigator with the Riley County Police Department, testified that Burroughs had suffered stab wounds and a gunshot wound later found near his right ear.

“That was discovered during the autopsy,” Hartman said.

According to prosecutors, 33-year-old James McKenith, of Manhattan, fatally stabbed Burroughs after he learned from his mother, 50-year-old Christina Love, that Nichols may have shot Burroughs earlier that night.

McKenith was sentenced in May to life in prison after pleading no contest in March to first-degree murder.

Love, also of Manhattan, was found guilty in May of two counts of aiding a felon after the fact and two counts of interference with a law enforcement investigation after pleading no contest to the charges in March. She was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

What wasn’t publicly known until Wednesday’s hearing is that’s only the surface of the extent to which the murders and those involved are connected.


Death and drugs


In court on Wednesday, Love said she had known Burroughs since 2001, when they first met in Junction City. Love also knew Nichols, who went to elementary school with her son.

During her testimony, Love said Nichols knew Burroughs because Nichols “used to go up to his apartment” when Burroughs lived in Junction City.

Love and Nichols’ acquaintance used to have another purpose.

“He was a drug dealer,” she said of Nichols, who also goes by “Choir Boy” or “Nephew.” “And I was buying drugs.”

When Riley County Senior Deputy Attorney Barry Disney asked her what kind of drugs, Love added Nichols would sell her crack cocaine.

Disney asked Love to go into detail about the events on Sept. 6, beginning with the first time she saw Burroughs that day.

Love said the first time was at about 6 p.m., when McKenith drove her to Burroughs’ trailer.

“(Burroughs) called and asked me to drink a beer with him,” she said.

Love estimated she stayed at the trailer for 20 to 30 minutes, while McKenith remained in the car. They then headed home for a barbecue.

Later that night, Love returned a phone call from Nichols.

“He said, ‘I need you to ride over to John’s house with me,” she recalled.

Nichols then picked her up and drove to the trailer. When they arrived, he parked the vehicle around the corner rather than in the driveway, which Love said she’d normally do when visiting Burroughs.

As they approached the trailer, Love continued up the steps and knocked on the door. Burroughs answered without opening the door, she said, asking who it was. She identified herself, but Nichols told her to go back to the car.

As she returned to the car, Love said she heard a loud noise.

“I heard a sound like a ‘pow,’” from the area of Burroughs’ trailer, she said.

Nichols was gone for about two minutes, Love said. He asked her if she had heard anything.

“I said, ‘Yes. What did you do?” she said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

Nichols then dropped off Love at her home, again telling her to not to say anything. Disney asked her whether she knew anything she wasn’t supposed to mention had happened.

Love said she did not.

But while she was home, Love told her daughter, husband and son, McKenith, that something might have happened.

McKenith asked her if Burroughs was dead.

“I said, ‘I don’t know,’” Love said. “Then he said, ‘We need to go see.’”

When they returned, Love said she found the door to Burroughs’ trailer partially opened. As she went inside and looked to the left, she saw Burroughs in the bathroom with his head lying against the toilet. She also saw blood.

“He was gasping for air,” Love said.

Love said McKenith stepped between her and Burroughs. He stood there for a few moments. At one point, she saw McKenith’s arm moving in “a stabbing motion.”

“I didn’t see where the knife came from, but I eventually found out it came from my home,” Love said.

Love told Disney she didn’t know McKenith’s intentions, but that she helped him get rid of the knife.



Trip to Junction City

McKenith and Love went home and parted ways from there, according to Love, who said in court that she didn’t know where her son went.

She later decided to go with a friend to Junction City. The friend was going to visit a dealer to buy crack cocaine.

But the dealer told Love’s friend he “hadn’t gotten his package,” Love said. So, they decided to visit another Junction City dealer, “Banks,” whose legal name is Anthony Nixon.

On the way, Love and her friend noticed police swarming around 10th and Webster streets. They decided to proceed to Nixon’s residence.

But Nixon wasn’t home. He was lying dead – near the corner of 10th and Webster streets.

Love estimated she returned to Manhattan at about 4:30 or 5 a.m. Sept. 7.

Riley County police eventually contacted her regarding their investigation into Burroughs’ death.

She told detectives part of what had happened, but lied, saying she wasn’t with Nichols when he went to the trailer.

Love eventually would recant her initial story to police and admitted she was in the car outside Burroughs’ trailer when Nichols allegedly shot him.

Before his arrest, Nichols showed up at her house one night. Love testified that Nichols told her he shot Nixon to draw attention away from Burroughs.

Love and McKenith were arrested on Sept. 11. Nichols was arrested on Sept. 13 after he had been arrested by Junction City police on Sept. 11 for Nixon’s death.

Although Love initially faced first-degree murder charges, her charges were amended in April after prosecutors said they’d discovered evidence that supported her claim that she didn’t know what either Nichols or her son intended to do.



Apparent inconsistencies

After Disney finished questioning Love on Wednesday, Nichols’ attorney, Jeffrey Wicks, went to work, pointing out inconsistencies between her testimony in court and what she had previously told detectives.

Wicks said a police report stated Love had told detectives she first visited Burroughs on Sept. 6 not to have a beer, but to have sex with him for $30.

Love told Wicks that was not correct.

“He gave me $50 for sexual contact,” she said.

Wicks also said a report stated Love told police she went back to Burroughs’ trailer to make sure he was dead.

“That is not what I said,” Love responded.

Among other apparent inconsistencies, Wicks noted a report said she told detectives Nichols had killed Burroughs, even though she had previously said that when she returned to the trailer with McKenith, Burroughs was “gasping for air.”

“At that point, you put the blame on Mr. Nichols for killing Mr. Burroughs, even though you knew it wasn’t true,” he said.

“It was true,” Love said. “It was true.”

Wicks continued with the differences between Love’s testimony on Wednesday and what detectives had written in previous testimonies, which Love continued to say weren’t her statements.

“So, multiple officers have gotten the reports wrong about your testimony,” Wicks said.

“Yup,” Love said.



Totality of evidence

Love’s testimony wasn’t the only evidence presented Wednesday that prosecutors tried to show connects Nichols to Burroughs’ murder.

The Riley County Police Department’s investigation eventually led authorities to Nichols’ apartment in Kansas City, where Hartman said they found a gun.

“It was in a blue bucket on a deck in the back of the apartment,” she said.

A Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab report later stated a fragment pulled from Burroughs was fired by the .38-caliber pistol found in Nichols’ apartment.

During his cross-examination of Hartman, Wicks asked her to confirm none of the work she did during the investigation indicated when Burroughs was killed or who killed him.

Hartman confirmed that was correct.

However, as the hearing later drew to a close, Wilson reviewed the evidence aloud and sided with prosecutors.

“Based upon the totality of those factors, the court will find that there is probable cause,” Wilson said.

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