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Questions surround Temple police response during Jenna Burleigh's violent death

Temple police twice went to the apartment building where Joshua Hupperterz lived, early Aug. 31 when victim Jenna Burleigh was with him.

Joshua Hupperterz, 29, was held for trial on murder and related charges in the death of Jenna Burleigh, 22, a Temple University student.
Joshua Hupperterz, 29, was held for trial on murder and related charges in the death of Jenna Burleigh, 22, a Temple University student.Read morePhiladelphia Police Department

Temple University officials Friday defended the response of campus police to an off-campus North Philadelphia apartment building the night student Jenna Burleigh was killed there early Aug. 31.

The university, after harrowing courtroom testimony Wednesday in Burleigh's violent slaying, did not say what officers did when they went to the building, but said they had acted appropriately. A witness testified that university police responded twice to her calls, one of which reported a woman screaming, and twice departed.

Burleigh's body was found two days later at the Poconos property belonging to the grandmother of Joshua Hupperterz, a former student who lived in a first-floor rear apartment in the 16th Street building. He allegedly killed Burleigh, 22, in his apartment about 4 a.m. Aug. 31, and is awaiting trial in connection with her killing.

The Temple police response appears to differ from a Philadelphia police policy enacted more than a decade ago after similar incidents, including one near the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Temple spokesman Brandon Lausch wrote in an email Friday that "the actions of responding officers have been reviewed internally, and it has been determined that they acted in accordance with accepted police practice."

On Thursday, responding to inquiries about the previous day's testimony, Lausch had released this statement: "The safety and well-being of Temple students is the university's top priority. In line with that commitment, Temple Police regularly respond to noise complaints in its patrol area and work closely with Philadelphia Police on safety issues. In this case, we remain focused on supporting the criminal process to ensure that justice is served for Jenna Burleigh and her family. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them over this tragic loss."

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a Philadelphia police spokesman,  said Friday that city police implemented a policy around 2005 regarding domestic violence calls, partly in response to two incidents about 15 years ago of a person screaming or in distress who later was found to have been killed.

One incident occurred around the University of Pennsylvania campus when a neighbor called police about hearing screaming or fighting in a private residence, he said. In both cases, Kinebrew said, when responding officers arrived, they could not corroborate the complaints and did not make forced entry.

Under the policy, if a police officer responds to a call of a woman screaming and cannot initially corroborate the information, "the police officer will remain on the scene and will call for a supervisor" with the rank of lieutenant or higher to respond to the scene, Kinebrew said.

The responding supervisor will decide whether the circumstances demand that the officers try to gain forcible entry into a private residence without a warrant, he said.

Noelle Sterling, a Temple graduate student who lived in the apartment above Hupperterz's, testified at his preliminary hearing Wednesday that she twice called Temple police to come to the building, 1708 N. 16th St.

The first time was about 2:15 a.m. She testified that she heard footsteps in the gravel backyard of her building and banging noises, which made her afraid. Two officers arrived about five minutes later, entered her apartment, "looked out the blinds, spoke to each other a little bit and said they would check the backyard," she testified.

Sterling said she did not see them check the backyard, only accessible via Hupperterz's apartment. Then, during an hourlong call with her mother, she testified, she heard banging noises "almost like someone building furniture."

Then, about 4 a.m., she heard a woman screaming, which she said lasted for three minutes, then suddenly stopped. There were "no words, just screams," she said. "It sounded terrifying, almost like if you were in a horror movie and a girl screamed, but it was worse."

Asked again to describe the screams, Sterling said it was "like a woman being murdered in a horror movie."

Sterling immediately called for Temple police a second time when the screaming started, she said. She said she was still on the phone with the dispatcher when the screaming stopped. Police arrived in a couple of minutes and Sterling said she described to them what she heard.

She said she was not sure where the screaming came from. She testified that she thought it could have originated from the building next door. "All I knew for certain, it wasn't coming from the backyard," she said.

She said she did not see the officers knock on any of the apartment doors in her three-story building.

Burleigh was determined to have died from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Her body was later found in a blue plastic storage bin in an aluminium shed at Hupperterz's grandmother's property in Hawley, Pa.

Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy said Friday that authorities believe Burleigh may have been struck in her head by a broken ceramic bowl that was found in Hupperterz's apartment.