A Union County, N.C., man has been sentenced to death for the 2019 murder of his 15-year old daughter in a graphically brutal case, prosecutors said.
On June 3, following a three-week trial, jurors determined Joshua Lee Burgess would be condemned to death in the killing of his daughter, Zaria. He also received an additional minimum of nearly 76 years in prison. Burgess was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder, one count of statutory rape, three counts of statutory sex offense, and one count of first degree sexual exploitation of a minor, according to a news release from prosecutors.
“This was truly an especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel killing of an innocent child. This case was emotionally taxing for everyone involved. We continue to grieve with and pray for Zaria’s mother,” Union County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Prosecutors said on August 18, 2019, Zaria, a high school sophomore who was on her school’s marching band and dance team, had been visiting her father for the weekend at his home in Monroe, N.C. But instead of giving her fatherly love and security, Burgess sexually tortured her for 22 hours, strangled her and then slit her throat, the news release stated.
“The details of this murder are indescribable. Every officer and detective involved in this case is feeling the effects of what happened to this child,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey told local station WCNC at the time of the murder. “There is no logical answer to explain why this man did what he is accused of doing. Our hearts and prayers are with Zaria’s mom and her family.”
According to the Associated Press, Burgess walked to into the local sheriff’s office, confessed to the brutal murder and told authorities where to find his daughter’s body. She was found in Burgess home, according to local station WCNC.
PEOPLE reported that in a confession to detectives, Burgess’ main motives “appeared to be lust and control.” But what drove him to that point was not indicated. It is unclear if there had been any prior abuse or complaints to authorities about Burgess, or any previous criminal record.
It is unknown if Joshua Lee Burgess will appeal the death sentence.