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A parole hearing for a convicted killer who has served 30 years in prison for the gruesome slaying of an Oakland County Realtor drew about a dozen spectators Tuesday, all in opposition to any release.

Johnnie Burton Jr., now 73 and formerly of Detroit, is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder in the October 1987 slaying of his employer William O. Ross, 40, of Rochester Hills.

“He didn’t do himself any favors,” said the victim’s son Derrick Ross, of Burton’s remarks at the hearing. “He sounded cold. Robotic. Rehearsed.

"At one point he was asked what he would have done if police hadn’t been tipped off about him by his wife, causing his arrest. He said: ‘I don’t know.’”

“I still can’t understand why we had to be there and go through all this today,” said Ross, who said he and other relatives were mentally and emotionally exhausted by the nearly two-hour long hearing. “None of it makes sense and I can’t believe they would ever want to let him out.”

Only one parole board member, Michael C. Eagen, chair of the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board, presided over the hearing at the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. A report of remarks and letters opposing or supporting a prison release will be reviewed in about two months by the 10-member board, said Holly Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“This was his first public hearing,” Kramer said. “The full board will discuss it in a couple months before making any decision.”

Ross owned several Detroit apartment buildings and employed Burton as a manager at one Littlefield property. Ross visited Burton on Oct. 15, 1987 and fired him after hearing reports of erratic behavior, including shooting at dogs and cats in the alley.

Burton told investigators he grabbed Ross’s wallet so he could learn where the man lived and pulled out a handgun during a struggle. When the two wrestled over the weapon, Burton said he fired several shots, hitting Ross in the head. He then put his body in a bathtub, dismembered him with a small handsaw and knife, and took the bagged remains to area landfills.

A Detroit Recorder’s Court jury heard 40 witnesses over a two-week trial and deliberated about an hour before returning a guilty verdict. At sentencing, Judge Edward M. Thomas essentially said he believed Burton should die in prison. Thomas, now retired, did not return telephone calls but court records indicates he had much to say to Burton at sentencing in 1989.

“You, by your conduct in court, by your conduct during the pendency of these matters, by the testimony that was given in court, leads me to just one conclusion, that is you are a very dangerous, small, petty individual  who has a real resentment for other persons who have chosen to make something of their lives that winds up being a little more than you think you have …

“Because you are such a violent, dangerous individual, I am of the opinion that you should never be allowed back into society to live among people that could be hurt by your violent propensities … you had absolutely no sensitivity to what you had done, and absolutely no remorse for what you had done, but rather, felt that it was something you had a right to do because you were going to lose your job.”

Thomas said he was going to recommend that Burton never be paroled and said he wanted to be notified in advance if that should be a possibility.

“Unfortunately, you’re the type of person that knows how to conform when it’s to your benefit, and when you’re (not) being watched, you do whatever you feel you want to do, which is hurt people,” Thomas said. “You should never live among people again in an ordered, civilized society, without supervision.”

One of many letters in opposition to a parole was from Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Petito, who asked for denial of parole on behalf of Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

“… He is not ready to be released to the community and questions remain as to whether it is safe to place him on parole. Mr. Burton had a very serious anger problem that led him to prison," Petito wrote. "His current statements about the crime and himself do not suggest that he has yet gained sufficient insight into his thoughts and behaviors nor done anything to change them.

"Without such assurances, this Board cannot offer the community reasonable assurances for their safety, should Mr. Burton be released on parole.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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