‘Devoid of feeling’ – Campground killer David Burke Jr. sentenced to life
Members of the courtroom audience choked on tears Friday as relatives of murder victim James Vannberg gave their opinions on how convicted killer David Burke Jr. should be sentenced.
Vannberg’s sister Darci Vannberg asked Nevada County Superior Court Judge Albert P. Dover to consider her 6- and 7-year-old nephews, who will grow up without a father.
“Their futures are unsure, but today is a chance to determine Burke’s … and hold him accountable for his actions,” Vannberg said.
Burke was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison for the South Yuba Campground crowbar murder July 9, 2002, when he bludgeoned Vannberg and buried him in a shallow grave. He was sentenced to an additional four years for burning his victim’s Jeep.
However, because the jury’s verdict in November included a special finding of kidnapping during the course of the murder, Burke is prohibited from filing for parole.
District Attorney Ron Wolfson said that means Burke will spend the rest of his life in prison.
“He has already sentenced three families for the rest of their lives,” Wolfson said before the sentence was handed down by Dover.
The victim’s father, David Vannberg, said his son’s murderer hasn’t shown an acceptance of his responsibility. He said he is worried that Burke is a social predator and “devoid of feeling.”
David Vannberg said he was previously opposed to the death penalty, but the brutal murder of his son has changed his view.
He also read statements about how his grandchildren have dealt with the murder of their father. The 6-year-old has been through a spectrum of emotions, including fear, anger, sadness and even happiness, when he pretends his father is still alive, David Vannberg said.
The boys’ mother, Jolianne, said they are confused and often ask why people who knew their father would kill him. The younger boy asks questions while the older is less expressive, though he tells her, “Daddy is still my hero,” she said.
She said she is afraid her children will grow up angry and bitter, which are emotions James Vannberg taught her to reject, she said.
Her husband would frequently tell her, “Being bitter will kill you faster than cancer,” she said. Those words have special meaning to her, she said, since a year and a half ago she learned she has terminal cancer.
Burke’s accomplice David Leffingwell, who testified against him during the November trial, has pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter but has not been sentenced.
Heather Gereau-Baer, who reportedly helped clean up blood after the killing, pleaded no contest to accessory to murder after the fact and was sentenced in December to six months in jail and five years’ probation.
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