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Accused killer of Temple student Jenna Burleigh rejects plea deal, seeks trial

Joshua Hupperterz rejected an offer to plead guilty to third-degree murder in Temple student Jenna Burleigh's death in exchange for a sentence of 30 to 60 years in prison.

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

The man accused of killing 22-year-old Temple University student Jenna Burleigh in his off-campus apartment last year rejected on Monday an offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to third-degree murder and be sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison.

Instead, Joshua Hupperterz told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson that he wanted to proceed to trial, now scheduled for Jan. 7, 2019. If convicted of first- or second-degree murder, Hupperterz would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell had told the judge on Friday that the District Attorney's Office had conveyed the plea offer to Hupperterz's attorneys. Defense attorney David Nenner said he wanted to give Hupperterz time over the weekend to think about it.

During a courtroom break on Monday, Nenner said Hupperterz maintained that he did not kill Burleigh.

Authorities have said that Hupperterz, then a 29-year-old former Temple student, met Burleigh early on Aug. 31, 2017, at Pub Webb, a bar near 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. The two were seen on surveillance video sitting together and chatting at the bar, then leaving the bar together shortly after 2 a.m. They were then seen on surveillance video walking toward his apartment building on 16th Street.

Authorities believe that Hupperterz killed Burleigh in his apartment about 4 a.m., around the time an upstairs neighbor heard screaming. A coroner later ruled that Burleigh died of blunt-force trauma and strangulation.

Burleigh had just started her first week of classes as a junior at Temple after transferring from Montgomery County Community College. She lived with her parents  in Harleysville.

Monday was the fifth day of a pretrial motions hearing for Hupperterz, in which his lawyers argued that statements the defendant gave to police should not be admissible at his trial because detectives questioned Hupperterz even after he told them that he had a lawyer. Prosecutors contend that Hupperterz willingly spoke to police.

According to testimony from witnesses at Hupperterz's preliminary hearing last year, Hupperterz put Burleigh's body in a blue plastic storage container and had a cousin drive him and the container to the home of  his mother  in Jenkintown, where the bin was placed inside a detached garage.

The next day, Sept. 1, Hupperterz allegedly hired a Lyft driver to take him to Jenkintown to retrieve the container and then had the driver take him and the container to the home of  his grandmother outside Hawley, about 45 miles east of Scranton. Both the cousin and the Lyft driver testified at Hupperterz's  preliminary hearing that they had not known that a body was inside the bin.

In limited questioning Monday, Hupperterz said he recalled taking a Lyft car from the Philadelphia area to his grandmother's house. But when Grenell asked whether he knew that Burleigh's body was also in the car, Hupperterz said: "I don't remember."

He also testified that while at the state police barracks in Dunmore on the night of Sept. 1, 2017, he told police that he had a lawyer, Tom Munley, and had expected the police to set up a meeting with him.

Instead, he contended that he was surprised when Philadelphia detectives arrived at the barracks about 1 a.m. Sept. 2 to return him to the city.

Hupperterz's mother, Gina, was in court Friday and Monday for the motions hearing.

Burleigh's family members were also in the courtroom. Her parents, Ed and Jaqui, said in a statement Saturday that while they "would obviously prefer life in prison without parole" for Hupperterz, they supported the plea offer to avoid a multi-day trial that would include painful details of their daughter's death.

The judge did not immediately rule on the motion to suppress Hupperterz's statements.