Evelyn Ruby Burgess had been dead less than one hour when she was found inside a Gallatin convenience store the morning after Valentine’s Day in 1981.
Burgess had been working overnight at the Short Stop Market on South Water Avenue when she was killed during an armed robbery Feb. 15. The 54-year-old mother of three was found lying in a pool of blood in one of the market’s aisles by a co-worker who had arrived for their shift at approximately 5:40 a.m.
“It was a brutal, brutal murder,” Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley recalled about what would go on to become the county’s first death penalty case in modern history. “(The killer) had taken her back to the beer cooler. She had fought him on the way back knocking stuff off the isles and everything. He murdered her, raped her and cut her throat.”
Burgess was then closed inside the cooler and later escaped by pressing an emergency release button for the door. She died while crawling to the front of the store seeking help.
Charles Anderson had talked to his mother the day before she was killed. During the lengthy phone conversation, Burgess had shared concerns about her safety working alone overnight at the market.
“People came in during the middle of the night to buy beer and whatnot that she was leery of,” Anderson recalled. “She was working really, really hard trying to improve her life. She was struggling, but she was doing good.
“Anybody that knew my mother just loved her.”
At the scene, police discovered $246 missing from a cash register at the store, according to court records. Six fingerprints were also taken from a bottle of Tropicana fruit punch that was still sitting on the counter with frost on the outside of the bottle.
Despite the fingerprints, there were no suspects at the time.
“At the time it happened we had no clue as to who had done it,” Whitley recalled. “Everybody was upset. It actually took a second murder to be able to solve this murder.”
Second rape, murder leads to arrest
On Aug. 6, 1982 – nearly 18 months after Burgess was killed – Gallatin police were called to the East Smith Street home of 66-year-old Annie Malone.
According to court documents, someone had broken into the residence by climbing through a back-bedroom window sometime prior to 1 a.m.
Malone, who was a cafeteria worker at Gallatin High School and attended First Baptist Church on East Winchester Street, died of a heart attack as a result of being attacked and raped by the suspect.
“We now had two people who had been raped and murdered and (authorities) didn’t have any suspects,” Whitley recalled. “They were doing all they could to solve either of these cases.”
While interviewing people later that summer as part of the investigation, police fingerprinted 20-year-old David Carl Duncan who happened to live close to Malone at the time.
Police discovered that not only did his prints matched those left on Malone’s glasses from the break-in, but also four fingerprints that were taken from the Tropicana bottle at the Short Stop Market where Burgess had been killed.
“He was denying the whole time that he’d been in the Short Stop Market… which was a big fat lie because his fingerprints were in there,” Whitley said. “They solved both cases in the same day really.”
Duncan was arrested on Aug. 27, 1982 in connection with the rapes and murders of Burgess and Malone. He was indicted two months later by a Sumner County Grand Jury on six total charges, which included two counts of first-degree murder, according to court records.
“Even before he was caught, there wasn’t a day I didn’t pray that God would let this guy get caught,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t hardly stand the thought of something like that happening and then having to spend the rest of my life never having a clue who did it and nobody ever having to pay for that.”
Separate murder trials held
The first murder trial for Duncan was held in early 1983 and represented the first death penalty case in modern Sumner County history.
In Tennessee, all individuals convicted of a capital offense were hanged up until 1913, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. However, no official records of those executed exist.
During the trial, a local cab driver who knew Duncan testified she saw him pumping gas outside the Short Stop Market less than one hour before Burgess was found murdered inside, according to court documents. Another witness also saw an individual with a description that “generally matched” Duncan’s leaving the market around the time the armed robbery was believed to have occurred.
The defense called Duncan’s friends and family members to testify during the trial. His girlfriend stated that he had been at her house the night of the killing and worked on her car the next day. Family members also testified that they did not yet own or had not given Duncan permission to drive a car similar to one that had been spotted at the crime scene.
However, the case ultimately came down to Duncan’s fingerprints being at the crime scene, according to Whitley.
“That’s what convicted him,” Whitley added.
Duncan was found guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated rape on April 1, 1983. He was later sentenced to death by electrocution for his crimes.
“It does not make you feel good, but it did make me feel like my mother’s life counted,” Anderson said about the sentence. “It counted and he had no right to take it.”
“I will always believe that during those days, justice was served,” he continued. “It was after that when things started to go south.”
In December of 1983, Duncan faced a possible second death sentence when he went to trial for the death of Malone. However, a jury found him guilty instead of second-degree murder – a verdict that was not eligible for the death penalty.
“I guess the jury felt like it wasn’t actually a (first-degree) murder because he didn’t physically kill her, but she died as a result of his act,” Whitley said. “He dodged a bullet.”
Death penalty overturned
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, there have been 136 executions carried out by the state since 1916. None of those have involved cases in Sumner County.
In 2015, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee overturned Duncan’s death sentence citing that his attorney “rendered ineffective assistance at the sentencing phase of his capital murder trial.”
While the conviction was upheld, prosecutors were forced to reach a new sentencing agreement with Duncan or risk taking the case back to trial more than 30 years later.
“It would be very hard if we had to try the case again,” Whitley said. “The majority of the people involved are dead except for David Carl Duncan and me.
“After talking with the state attorney general’s office, they felt like it would be the best practice if we could reach some kind of agreement where he would serve a substantial amount of more time (in prison) and not go for the death penalty.”
According to an amended criminal judgment filed in late 2018, Duncan can now become eligible for parole when he turns 65 on March 27, 2027. The 57-year-old is currently being held at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.
Anderson said he plans to speak to the Tennessee Board of Parole at the hearing and request that Duncan not be allowed to leave prison.
“I want him to come to know Jesus Christ and… I want him to come to repentance, but that does not chance the fact that he is a convicted first-degree murderer,” Anderson added. “He was a vicious criminal and he really deserved that death penalty and should have gotten it years ago.
“We’re going to fight for as long as there are any of us left to make sure at least he never sees the light of day outside that penitentiary.”