Jury finds Farmington man guilty of murder

Steve Garrison
Lionel Francis looks back during his murder trial on Monday in Aztec.

AZTEC — A jury on Thursday found Lionel Francis guilty of beating his girlfriend to death at the couple's Farmington apartment in November 2013.

Francis, 33, was convicted of second-degree murder, among other offenses, after a four-day trial at the Eleventh Judicial District courthouse in Aztec.

The family of the victim, Shai Burbank, hugged and cried outside the courthouse after the decision was announced. They declined to comment on the verdict. 

Jury deliberations began by mid-morning after closing statements from the prosecutors, Marcus Blais and Trevor Maveal, as well as defense attorney Matthew Cockman.

Blais showed the jury photos of Burbank's bruised body and her eviscerated liver to emphasize that Francis was deliberate in killing his long-time girlfriend and the mother of his infant child.

Blais also showed the jury photos of the defendant, dressed in a Metallica T-shirt, after he was arrested by police.

"Not a mark on him," Blais said, adding later, "He was clearly the stronger individual and was in control of that situation."

Blais did say Francis suffered some injuries. His knuckles were swollen "sustained because he was beating her to death," he said.

Blais said Francis exhibited the behavior of a "psychopath" in killing Burbank.

"She was a young gal," Blais said of the 32-year-old victim. "She had a lot of life ahead of her."

Lionel Lee Francis

Cockman argued what the prosecutors claimed were bruises could have actually been suggillation, or the pooling of blood in the lower portion of the body after death.

He also said Francis had wounds to his shoulder, buttocks and the back of the neck, suggesting he was shielding his infant son when Burbank attacked him.

"His desire to be protective of his son was constant throughout," Cockman said. "Who among us would allow someone to put their baby in danger by subjecting them to blows? None of us, that is who."

Cockman argued Burbank provoked Francis, which, if the jury agreed, would have reduced the offense from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter. 

Farmington police officers were dispatched the morning of Nov. 11, 2013, to an apartment at 2901 Parque De Oeste after Francis told 911 dispatchers: "My lady is not breathing."

Police forced entry into the locked apartment and found Burbank dead on the living room floor and Francis standing in a stairwell with the couple's five-month-old son and Burbank's 7-year-old daughter.

A member of Burbank's family said Thursday that the children are now being cared for by their grandmother.

Francis was taken into custody and told detectives he and Burbank got into a fight after watching the Denver Broncos' football game the night before. He said Burbank attacked him while he was holding their son, and he responded by beating her with his hands and feet.

Francis was charged with second-degree murder, evidence tampering, child abuse and battery against a household member. He was found guilty Thursday on all counts, except evidence tampering.

He is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 5.

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