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Jurors picked, trial to start for man accused of killing Temple student Jenna Burleigh

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday in the murder trial of Joshua Hupperterz, 30, accused of killing Temple student Jenna Burleigh, 22, in 2017.

Jenna Burleigh (left) was a Temple student when she was allegedly killed by Joshua Hupperterz in his North Philadelphia apartment.
Jenna Burleigh (left) was a Temple student when she was allegedly killed by Joshua Hupperterz in his North Philadelphia apartment.Read morePhiladelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Police Department Via AP

Seven men and five women were picked as jurors Monday to hear the trial of a former Temple University student accused of killing 22-year-old Temple student Jenna Burleigh in his off-campus apartment in August 2017 and then hiding her body in the Poconos.

Opening statements are expected Tuesday in the case of Joshua Hupperterz, 30, charged with murder, possession of an instrument of crime, abuse of corpse, and tampering with evidence. If convicted of first- or second-degree murder, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

During Monday’s daylong jury selection, Burleigh’s parents, Ed and Jaqui, as well as Burleigh’s sister and one of her two brothers, sat quietly in the courtroom, as did Hupperterz’s mother, Gina.

The body of Burleigh, who lived with her parents in Harleysville, Montgomery County, was found in September 2017 in a bin at the house of Hupperterz’s grandmother in the Poconos. Prosecutors say Hupperterz took it there after killing her in his apartment. A coroner ruled that Burleigh died of blunt-force trauma and strangulation.

Hupperterz has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has contended to police detectives that his roommate killed Burleigh, a claim authorities dispute. The roommate was not charged.

Last month, Hupperterz rejected an offer from the District Attorney’s Office to plead guilty to third-degree murder and related offenses for a negotiated sentence of 30 to 60 years in state prison.

Late Monday, after the jury had been selected but had left the courtroom, Hupperterz’s lawyer, David Nenner, told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson that Hupperterz wanted to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges related to transporting Burleigh’s body to his grandmother’s house — abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence. The judge said they would discuss the request Tuesday.

The selected jurors include a hospital emergency room nurse, a Drexel University senior, a film and literature freelance writer, a librarian, two biologists, a software engineer, and a Realtor. Four alternates were also chosen.

Of the men on the jury, five are white and two Asian American. At one point, Hupperterz’s lawyer raised what is known as a Batson challenge, accusing Assistant District Attorneys Jason Grenell and Danielle Burkavage of excluding African Americans from the jury based on their race. At that time, the three women who had been picked as jurors were African American, but prosecutors had used four strikes to exclude African American men from the panel.

Nenner told the judge that he had learned from Hupperterz that Hupperterz is half Hispanic and a quarter each white and black. The judge noted that by appearance Hupperterz looks Caucasian and that there is no racial aspect to this case. Burleigh was white.

The judge ruled that prosecutors' reasons for excluding the four African American men were race-neutral and that there was no racial discrimination.

Of the four alternates chosen later in the day, three were African American men and one an African American woman.

Authorities have said that Hupperterz, then a 29-year-old former Temple student, met Burleigh at Pub Webb, a bar near campus on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The two were seen on surveillance video sitting together and chatting in the bar, then leaving together shortly after 2 a.m. Aug. 31, 2017.

Prosecutors believe that Hupperterz killed Burleigh in his apartment on 16th Street about 4 a.m., around the time an upstairs neighbor heard screaming.

After allegedly killing Burleigh, Hupperterz put her body in a blue plastic storage container and had a cousin drive him and the container to the Jenkintown home of Hupperterz’s mother, where the bin was placed inside a detached garage, according to testimony at Hupperterz’s November 2017 preliminary hearing. He then returned to Philadelphia.

The next day, Sept. 1, Hupperterz allegedly hired a Lyft driver to take him to Jenkintown, where he retrieved the container, and then had the driver take him and the container to the home of his grandmother in Wayne County.

While trying to find Burleigh, law enforcement authorities discovered that she had last been seen leaving Pub Webb with Hupperterz, who was a regular at the bar. They traced his cell phone to his grandmother’s home.

On the night of Sept. 1, Pennsylvania state troopers went there and persuaded Hupperterz to go with them to their barracks in Dunmore. Philadelphia police detectives arrived at the barracks about 1 a.m. Sept. 2 and took Hupperterz back with them to the city.

Later that day, his grandmother’s estranged husband found the bin holding Burleigh’s body in a shed at the wooded, lakeside property in the Poconos.

Passionate about issues of social justice, Burleigh was outspoken about racism, feminism, and LGBTQ rights. She had just started her first week of classes as a junior at Temple after transferring from Montgomery County Community College.

She was also passionate about serving the homeless. After her death, her family set up a foundation in her memory, Jenna’s Blessing Bags Foundation, which provides backpacks to the homeless containing items such as toiletries, clothing, blankets, and food.

The trial is expected to last into next week.