A Philadelphia jury on Thursday found former Temple University student Joshua Hupperterz guilty of murder in the strangling of Temple student Jenna Burleigh in his North Philadelphia apartment two years ago.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 80 minutes before convicting Hupperterz of first-degree murder and related crimes.
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Hupperterz, 30, showed no reaction when the jury foreman read the verdict.
Afterward, in a hearing in which Hupperterz received the mandatory sentence of life in prison, Burleigh’s parents, sister, and friends gave emotional victim-impact statements.
The killing of Burleigh, 22, in an off-campus apartment gripped the region, partly because she was a passionate young woman who advocated for social justice. She wrote about making the world better on her blog, and took action to care for the homeless and march for women’s rights. She had just started her first week of classes as a transfer student at Temple and was commuting from her Montgomery County home, where she lived with her parents.
And it shocked residents to learn that the man accused of killing her after they had met in a bar stuffed her naked, bloodied body into a blue plastic storage bin and took it to his mother’s garage in Jenkintown, then to his grandmother’s wooded lakeside property in the Poconos, hiding the bin in a small metal shed.
“This was just such an outrageous, depraved crime,” Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson told Hupperterz in sentencing him to life in prison without parole. Bronson added the maximum he could on the related counts: consecutive 4½ to nine years in state prison on misdemeanor charges of possession of an instrument of crime, abuse of corpse, and tampering with evidence.
“You just extinguished the life of a very special person who had a lot to give,” the judge told him.
Hupperterz, after consulting with his lawyer, David Nenner, declined to comment before being sentenced.
But Burleigh’s parents, sister, and friends had a lot to say to the judge.
Her mother, Jacqueline Burleigh, who frequently clutched rosary beads during the trial, said: “Jenna was a loving, caring, compassionate, sassy, passionate person who was unapologetically herself. All she wanted was peace in this world.”
“She was my sunshine," said her father, Ed. "She had a beautiful soul inside and out.”
He spoke of a foundation set up in his daughter’s memory, Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation, which provides the homeless with backpacks containing toiletries, clothing, blankets, and food.
In a voice cracking with emotion, Burleigh’s older sister Janelle read to the judge something that Jenna had written on her blog: “I want to change the world, I want to make a difference. … I want to stand up for what’s right.”
Evidence in the trial showed that Hupperterz met Burleigh at 1:38 a.m. Aug. 31, 2017, at Pub Webb, a bar on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near Temple. She had gone there with friends, but they had left. Then, shortly after the 2 a.m. closing time, Hupperterz and Burleigh, who had planned on staying at a friend’s off-campus apartment, left the bar together and walked to his place around the corner.
The two had consensual sex, but at some point it became nonconsensual, prosecutors said.
In his closing argument Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell detailed Burleigh’s last moments as she fought for her life in the kitchen of Hupperterz’s first-floor rear unit at 1708 N. 16th St.
“She was there, naked, lying on the ground,” Grenell told the jury in a packed courtroom. “The last thing this 22-year-old girl would see, ingrained in her mind, was his face,” he said, pointing to Hupperterz at the defense table.
“He made a choice” when Burleigh began screaming for her life about 4 a.m., Grenell said. “Those screams only said one thing: ‘Josh, stop! Please, stop!’”
“All he had to do was let go,” Grenell said, but instead, Hupperterz, then a 29-year-old former Temple student, choked the life out of her.
Afterward, he tried to pin the death on his roommate, Jack Miley.
Authorities never implicated Miley in the crime. Miley, 24, testified to jurors last week that he was sleeping in his basement bedroom after a night of heavy drinking, heard no screams, and didn’t even know that Burleigh — whom he never met — was in their apartment.
But Miley was the centerpiece of Hupperterz’s defense.
Although Hupperterz admitted at the start of the trial to transporting Burleigh’s body to his grandmother’s Poconos property, he said he did not kill her.
Nenner, the defense attorney, contended during the trial that Miley intervened in the violent fight between Burleigh and Hupperterz, and that Miley strangled Burleigh.
Grenell, in his closing, said the DNA evidence pointed only to Hupperterz.
Grenell pointed to Miley and said: “You’re excluded, Mr. Miley, and I’m sorry you had to sit through this.” Miley, sitting quietly in the courtroom gallery with his family, nodded.
Burleigh’s bloody fingernails revealed who killed her, said Grenell, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage. Showing an autopsy photo of her fingers, Grenell said those nails scratched at Hupperterz’s neck as he choked her.
“Mr. Miley is excluded from that DNA,” Grenell said. “It’s not Miley. Who did she scrape? Who did she claw? Who is the one holding her down?”