Robert Burkell

Broward County, Florida
Date of Crime:  November 22, 2003

Robert Burkell was convicted of the murder of 81-year-old Charles Bertheas.  Bertheas, a French national, rented a room inside Burkell's home at 9107 NW 72 Court, in Tamarac, FL.  Burkell told investigators he discovered Bertheas lying on the floor inside his room and called 911.  Tamarac Fire Rescue responded to the scene and determined Bertheas was dead.  Bertheas had been bludgeoned with repeated blows to the head, but no weapon was ever identified or found.  His death was ruled a homicide due to blunt trauma.  Bertheas was found on a Sunday afternoon.  It was determined that he died approximately 18 hours before, placing his murder on the previous night.  Bertheas was last seen around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday evening.

Burkell had remodeled his house to provide lodging to Bertheas.  Bertheas had given Burkell his power of attorney.  Burkell had cashed a $10,000 check drawn on Bertheas's bank account on the day before his death.  Burkell had dined with Bertheas just hours before his death, but there was no hint of friction between the two.  Burkell was also a beneficiary of the Bertheas's will, an estate worth nearly $300,000.

Burkell, his wife, and his adult daughter were home the night of Bertheas's murder, although his wife had left for a brief period to visit a friend.  Bertheas's room had two sets of sliding glass doors, none of which were locked. Other doors leading into the family room of the house were also unlocked.  At least 12 latent fingerprints found at the scene could not be matched to Burkell or any member of his family.

A bloody (barefoot) footprint belonging to Burkell was found in Bertheas's room.  The state presented it as evidence, but presented no evidence that this print was left at the time of the murder.  Nor did the state eliminate the possibility that it was left when Burkell found the body.  Burkell had told police he thought he was wearing sandals when he discovered the body.  The state also found specks of blood belonging to both Burkell and Bertheas in the floor mat and in the sink in Bertheas's bathroom.  No evidence was presented regarding the age of these specks.  No other evidence was presented by the State.

In 2007, the Florida Court of Appeals vacated Burkell's conviction on the basis of insufficient evidence and ordered his acquittal.  It ruled that that the state had not proven Burkell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because “The State's evidence in this case did not eliminate every plausible theory of innocence.”  [10/08]


References:  Broward Sheriff's Office, 2007 Appeal, 2008 Appeal

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Southern Florida Cases, Intruder MurdersInsufficient Evidence