Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Shooting deliberate, jury told

BY Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Things were going all wrong for James Roark on Oct. 16., prosecutors recounted Monday.

        His car broke down. He was upset because someone had broken into his apartment. He lost several hands of cards at the Eagles hall in Lebanon.

        More than 20 beers later, Mr. Roark pulled a .38-special out of his pocket and took his souring luck out on his next-door neighbor, prosecutors said as Mr. Roark's murder trial opened in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

        Mr. Roark, 60, of South Lebanon, is charged with aggravated murder in the death of Jacqueline Sue Burns and felonious assault for wounding their landlord, Kenneth Sunnycalb.

        Authorities said the bullet that pierced Mrs. Burns' head grazed the scalp of Mr. Sunnycalb, who was seated next to Mrs. Burns on a couch.

        Mr. Roark withdrew an insanity plea last week, and his lawyers said they hope a jury will consider lesser charges of murder, reckless homicide or involuntary manslaughter instead. They said their client doesn't deny the he killed her.

        The shooting, at the apartment Mrs. Burns shared with her ex-husband on Morrow Road, occurred after Mrs. Burns lost $200 in two hands of “high card” to Mr. Roark and couldn't pay him immediately, authorities say. Prosecutors say the killing was planned because Mr. Roark left the party and came back with a gun.

        Mr. Roark then waved the gun at the small group of friends who had gathered to drink and play cards that night, Warren County Assistant Prosecutor James Beaton told the jury in opening statements. Mr. Roark wanted answers about who broke into his apartment the week before, he said.

        Mr. Beaton said Mr. Roark held the gun to Mrs. Burns' head and twice asked her “if she was afraid to die” after she revealed she couldn't pay him. He then pulled the trigger.

        Defense lawyers say the shooting was an accident that happened during horseplay with the gun.

        In addition, his attorneys say Mr. Roark was intoxicated — registering more than twice the legal limit on a breath test two hours after the 11 p.m. shooting — and was taking several types of prescription painkillers, sedatives and anti-depressants.


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