Convict denied parole in '87 slaying of Oakland Co. Realtor

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

A man convicted in the 1987 murder-dismemberment of an Oakland County Realtor has been denied parole, according to state officials.

Johnnie Burton Jr., 73, and formerly of Detroit, has served more than 30 years of a life sentence for second-degree murder in the slaying of his former employer William O. Ross, 40, of Rochester Hills.

Johnnie Burton Jr.

The full 10-member Parole Board reviewed a report of remarks from a December 2019 parole hearing and letters of opposition and support for Burton’s release. The board decided Jan. 10 against parole for Burton, said Holly Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“There is no appeal process but he can be considered again in five years,” Kramer said, noting Burton’s next eligibility is in August 2024.

Read more: Son of '87 slaying victim rips 'cold' killer at parole hearing

"Our entire family, friends and community were relieved to receive the news on the results of Burton's denial of parole," said one of the victim’s sons, Derrick Ross, who was 14 when his father was killed. "Even though it was painful to be dragged back through this, the Parole Board got it right and Burton is where he belongs due to the consequences of his heinous actions."

Ross owned several Detroit apartment buildings and employed Burton as a manager at one property on Littlefield. 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 during a struggle, pulled out a handgun. When the two wrestled over the weapon, Burton said he fired several shots, hitting Ross in the head. He then put Ross’s body in a bathtub, dismembered him with a small handsaw and knife, and took the bagged remains to area landfills.

William O. Ross was killed in 1987.

A Detroit Recorder’s Court jury heard 40 witnesses over a two-week trial and deliberated about an hour before returning a guilty verdict in the case.

At sentencing, Judge Edward M. Thomas told Burton: “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 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 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 Prosecuting Attorney Maria Petito. On behalf of Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Petito wrote, “… 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. 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.”

Michigan has about 38,000 inmates in state prisons. Each year, about 10,000 inmates receive paroles, Kramer said.

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