Jones County Circuit Judge Dal Williamson heard two pretrial motions in the civil case involving The Estate of Katherine Elizabeth Sinclair vs. Gregory W. Burroughs on Monday, December 2. The judge made rulings on an insurance company’s motion to intervene and on the defendant’s motion to compel discovery from the plaintiffs. Burroughs was found not guilty for the June 2017 shooting death of Sinclair by a Franklin County jury in a criminal trial held in August 2018.
The court had entertained a request from State Farm months ago to intervene in the trial through a special interrogatory, but no order was issued on the request until yesterday. A special interrogatory is directed to a jury upon a request for a special verdict or special findings. According to a “complaint for intervention” filed by State Farm in December 2018, the company “has a direct interest in the resolution of certain issues” in the case and “the manner in which these issues are resolved may directly impact its rights.” That same complaint also notes that “State Farm believes that if a judgment is rendered against the defendant in this action, efforts will be made to enforce the judgment and execute against the liability coverage” of the policy. State Farm had renewed a homeowners policy with Burroughs about six months prior to Katherine Sinclair’s death. According to attorney Lanny Pace, who was representing the insurance company Monday in court, the State Farm policy has an exclusion for intentional acts.
The court ordered Monday that State Farm would not participate in the trial nor be mentioned in the trial until jury instructions are considered.
In response to a second motion filed in the case on Monday by the defense team, the judge gave the plaintiffs in the case 14 days to release to the defense more specific information about what witnesses, documents and facts will be used in the trial.
The civil complaint was filed in May 2018, about three months before Burroughs was found not guilty by a Franklin County jury for the shooting death of Sinclair on June 1, 2017. Burroughs was exonerated of a manslaughter charge in that criminal trial.
In this civil proceeding the plaintiffs, specifically Scott Sinclar, Katherine’s father, and Madeline Dianne Herrington, Katherine’s mother, are asking for actual and punitive damages, with the amount to be determined by a jury. The jurors who hear the case will not be from Jones County, since Burroughs’s defense team asked for and received a change of venue for the trial. The defense argued that because the local jury pool could potentially be tainted by news accounts presented by WDAM TV and the Laurel Leader-Call around the time of Katherine’s shooting death and during the proceedings of the criminal trial, a change of venue is necessary for a fair trial.
The plaintiffs argued against a venue change, pointing out that the Laurel Leader-Call has just over 6,000 subscribers in a county with an estimated population of 68,000 people. That small percentage of subscribers, the plaintiffs argued, plus the fact that the subscribers were just that – subscribers – and not "tainted jurors," should not be grounds for switching the venue. The plaintiffs also highlighted in their opposition that Burroughs’s freedom was at stake in the criminal trial but that he only faces potential monetary damages in this civil trial.
The court granted the request to move the trial, noting that “the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that an accused has a right to a change of venue when it is doubtful that an impartial jury can be obtained.” The tentative date for the trial is the last week of June 2020 in Neshoba County.
Katherine Sinclair died after suffering a gunshot wound to the head on June 1, 2017, while sitting in a car in Burroughs’s garage at 42 Windemere Blvd. in Laurel.