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North Carolina Dad Gets Death Penalty In 15-Year-Old Daughter’s Torture Killing

Joshua Burgess has been sentenced to death for the rape, torture and murder of his 15-year-old daughter, Zaria, in 2019 after being convicted at trial.

By Dorian Geiger
A handout photo of Zaria Burgess

A North Carolina father who was convicted in the “heinous” rape and murder of his own teenage daugher in 2019 has been sentenced to death following a three-week trial last week, officials said.

Joshua Lee Burgess, 35, was found guilty by a Union County jury of the first-degree murder of his 15-year-old daughter Zaria nearly three years ago, prosecutors announced Friday. Burgess was also convicted on charges of statutory rape, first degree sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of statutory sex offense in the case and received an additional minimum of 76 years behind bars in connection with those offenses.

“This was truly an especially heinous, atrocious and cruel killing of an innocent child,” Trey Robison, the Union County District Attorney, said in a prepared statement on June 3. “This case was emotionally taxing for everyone involved. We continue to grieve with and pray for Zaria’s mother.”

Jurors deliberated for approximately three hours before reaching their verdict, according to prosecutors.

“District Attorney Trey Robison would like to thank the men and women of the jury who gave their time and effort in this very emotional case and helped bring closure to Zaria’s family and friends,” the prosecutors’ statement added.

County authorities were dispatched to Burgess’ home on Airport Road in the Hampton Meadows neighborhood of Monroe, North Carolina — about 27 miles southwest of Charlotte — on Aug. 18, 2019. Upon arrival, detectives found Zaria unresponsive. An autopsy later determined that she'd died from a sharp force injury to her neck.

A police handout of Joshua Burgess

Burgess eventually went to the Union County Sheriff’s Office and turned himself in.

“I just killed someone,” the North Carolina father told law enforcement, according to WCNC-TV.

Prosecutors say the 15-year-old girl was brutally murdered by her father after he psychologically and sexually tortured her for a period of approximately 22 hours.

“The details of this murder are indescribable,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said at the time. “Every officer and detective involved in this case is feeling the effects of what happened to this child. There is no logical answer to explain why this man did what he is accused of doing.”

According to officials, the teenage girl typically stayed with her biological mother but had been spending the weekend with her father at the time of the homicide. Zaria was a sophomore at Union County High School.

“It’s just evil,” Union County Sheriff Tony Underwood also said in 2019, WBTV reported. “I mean murder is murder, but to kill your own flesh and blood like this, there’s just no way to explain it other than it’s just an evil crime.”

Around the time of the killing, neighborhood residents reportedly appeared unaware Burgess had been staying at the home, believing the property was abandoned.

Burgess had previous arrests for common law robbery and larceny over $200, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com.

A spokesperson for the Union County District Attorney Trey Robison’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment regarding Burgess’ sentencing on Monday.