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Man gets life sentence in Delco home-invasion murders

By pleading no contest to two Delaware County Court cases against him yesterday, Jermaine Burgess spared himself what he wouldn't spare his victims - death.

By pleading no contest to two Delaware County Court cases against him yesterday, Jermaine Burgess spared himself what he wouldn't spare his victims - death.

Burgess, 38, was sentenced to life in prison in the home-invasion murders of 81-year-old Marie Ott of Ridley Township on Oct. 27, 2008, and Hoa Pham, 60, of Upper Darby on Nov. 10, 2008.

He also pleaded no contest in both cases to robbery and, in the Upper Darby case, pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of Pham's 58-year-old wife, who survived what police called a "sadistic and brutal" attack.

Those offenses tacked another 25 to 50 years on Burgess' life sentence. There is no possibility he'll ever walk free again, District Attorney G. Michael Green said.

Prosecutors dropped the possibility of a death sentence against Burgess in exchange for his plea, only after consulting with the victim's families.

Joseph Elia, Ott's son, said it was a difficult decision. But for Elia, who has attended all of Burgess' hearings, the thought of having to attend endless appeals was unbearable.

"Did we want the death penalty as a family? Yes, unconditionally," he said. "But I think justice is served. He'll never get out and do this to anyone else again."

The sadistic murders shook Delaware County last fall.

Ott, a handicapped widow, was tied up with her own bootlaces and stabbed to death while a plastic bag covered her head.

Burgess was staying next-door with his aunt at the time of the murder.

Pham, who survived seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and his wife were tied up with electrical cord from their house and beaten with a chisel. Burgess raped Pham's wife, using a Ziploc bag as a prophylactic, before he murdered her husband.

At the time, Burgess was staying with his sister a half-mile from the Pham's home.

DNA evidence from Burgess' prior court convictions tied him to DNA evidence from the murder scenes, police said.

Sources previously told the Daily News that DNA may also tie Burgess to the cold-case murder of 30-year-old Tara Izzo, who was sexually assaulted and stabbed in the city's Overbrook section in 2001. He has not been charged in that case.

When police pinpointed Burgess as a suspect in the Upper Darby and Ridley cases, they found him already in prison for a carjacking in Overbrook on Dec. 17, 2008.

Burgess, who has spent about a third of his life in prison, was out on parole after being convicted in a gun case when he committed the murders and the carjacking.

A self-described "lawless hoodlum," Burgess has multiple convictions for assaults, robbery and gun offenses.

In January, Gov. Ed Rendell used Burgess as an example of why he supported stronger laws for repeat, violent offenders.

For some time, Burgess was also considered a suspect in the Sept. 9, 2008, murder of Jane Morgan, 84, who was killed in her Upper Darby apartment.

Police said he admitted to the Ott and Pham murders, but never to Morgan's. In June, police cited DNA evidence when they arrested 61-year-old Billy Williams, Morgan's neighbor and a close friend of Burgess', in the Morgan case.

Elia said the effect of Burgess' actions are immeasurable. His wife and daughter no longer feel safe in their own home, he said.

In his court statement yesterday, Elia said the plea and the sentence will bring legal closure to his family, even if it won't bring emotional closure.

"I will never find full closure until this criminal draws the last breath of his useless life and I draw mine," he said.