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Farmington police testify at man's murder trial

Steve Garrison
stgarrison@daily-times.com
Lionel Francis, center, speaks with his attorneys during his murder trial on Monday in Aztec. Francis is accused of killing his girlfriend in November 2013.

FARMINGTON — Police testified Monday at the murder trial for Lionel Francis that he was found on Nov. 11, 2013, at his Farmington apartment covered in blood and holding the 5-month-old son he shared with his long-time girlfriend.

Officers found the girlfriend, Shai Burbank, in the family's living room beaten to death. Farmington police officer Brian Johnston, a nine-year law enforcement veteran, told the jury blood was smeared on the floor surrounding Burbank's body and clumps of hair were scattered throughout the living room and kitchen.

"I've never seen anything worse in my career," Johnson said.

Prosecutor Trevor Maveal said on Monday, the first day of the trial, that the state would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Francis murdered Burbank during a drunken fight.

"Shai Burbank was mercilessly and literally beaten to death," Maveal said. "She was left beaten from head-to-toe behind the locked doors of her apartment complex, or apartment unit."

Francis, who was 33 at the time, is charged with second-degree murder, tampering with evidence, child abuse and battery against a household member.

Francis' attorney, Matthew Cockman, argued Burbank was heavily intoxicated and attacked his client, who fought back in self-defense. Cockman said an autopsy indicated Burbank had a 0.35 blood-alcohol content at the time of her death, "by itself, a potentially lethal amount."

"What happened that day was wrong, but it was not murder," Cockman said. "When she said, 'I had enough,' the fight stopped."

Farmington police Sgt. Kyle Dowdy was one of four officers, including Johnson, to testify for the prosecution on Monday.

Lionel Lee Francis

He told the jury he arrived at the couple's apartment at 2901 Parque De Oeste at approximately 8:50 a.m. after Francis called 911 and reported: "My lady is not breathing."

Dowdy said the officers at the scene learned from a neighbor — Carissa Biggs, who also testified Monday — that Francis and Burbank were fighting the night before.

Biggs said she heard a woman yell "Help," during an argument that lasted about five minutes.

"I just heard yelling and banging on the walls," Biggs said.

After no one answered the door, Dowdy said the officers forced their way into the locked apartment.

The 32-year-old woman's body was in the living room covered with a sheet and it appeared someone had attempted to clean up some of the blood, according to Dowdy.

"There were no obvious signs of gasping or attempting to breathe," Dowdy said. "No movement from her at all."

After police entered the residence and cleared the ground floor, Francis came down the stairs with the baby boy and Burbank's 7-year-old daughter, according to Dowdy. Francis was immediately taken into custody and transported to Farmington Police Department headquarters.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Francis told detectives at the headquarters that he and Burbank were drinking at the apartment and watching football the night before when Burbank began hitting and slapping him.

He told detectives he elbowed Burbank in the face, the affidavit states. He said Burbank kept coming at him, so he punched and kicked her repeatedly until she fell into unconsciousness, according to the affidavit.

Francis' statements to police are expected to be presented as evidence to the jury today. The trial is expected to conclude on Wednesday.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

Farmington Police Department Officer Robert Decker testifies on Monday at Lionel Francis’ murder trial in Aztec.