Sallee: ‘They were alive’

Jurors heard the softspoken voice of murder suspect Samuel E. Sallee during recordings of his first interviews with police investigators nearly two years ago.

The recordings were played Monday for the jury hearing the Sallee murder case in Bartholomew Circuit Court.

The interviews were conducted two days after the May 11, 2013, quadruple homicide the Columbus man is charged with committing. Sallee was picked up by police outside the Parkway Drive residence where he was staying at the time of the killings.

Sallee, 57, faces life without parole if convicted of killing Katheryn M. Burton, 53; Thomas W. Smith, 39; Aaron T. Cross, 41; and Shawn L. Burton, 40. All four victims were shot to death in the Waynesville home owned by Katheryn Burton.

While questioned by Detective Chris Roberts of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Sallee admitted he was at the murder scene on the day of the killings to attempt to sell a gun and get some methamphetamine.

However, the admission came after Roberts suggested that video surveillance equipment was set up at the murder scene, Roberts told the jury.

The detective admitted on the witness stand Monday that he was only bluffing about surveillance at the Burton home, 2634 E. Main Cross St., Waynesville.

Other law enforcement officers who were heard questioning Sallee on the recordings were Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Duke and Agent John O’Boyle of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In the recording, Sallee claimed he called ahead to Tommy Smith to let him know he was coming. Upon his arrival, he was told that Katheryn Burton was sleeping in the back of the house.

When asked what time he arrived and left, Sallee said he didn’t know because he does not wear a watch.

He mistakenly referred to Smith by the name of “Mike” throughout the interview.

Sallee said he was shown a gun with a scope at the murder scene, but he said the victims were either talking on the telephone or playing video games during most of the time he was at the Waynesville residence.

He also recalled Smith going outside when an ambulance pulled up for an ailing neighbor. Sallee said he left shortly after the ambulance arrived, which official records show was just after 6 p.m.

However, video surveillance taken 5 miles north of the crime scene in Garden City presented by Sheriff’s Capt. John Martoccia last Thursday suggests Sallee didn’t leave Waynesville until after 7:30 p.m.

After investigators spent a few minutes coaxing Sallee to open up more and elaborate on his short answers, Sallee replied: “They were alive when I left.”

When Sallee was urged to speak up if “something went wrong,” the defendant’s voice became loud.

“Nothing went wrong, and I don’t know how it happened,” Sallee said. “All I know is what I read in the paper, and what happened while I was there. Now, what happened after that, I don’t know.”

The defendant went on to claim he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While Sallee told investigators he had taken drugs just hours before the interview, he did not elaborate about what drugs he took.

When Sallee was again urged to elaborate on short answers and asked whether he was attempting to protect someone, Sallee’s voice became louder.

However, his exact words were inaudible to many in the courtroom. Since the digital recordings also picked up substantial outdoor ambient noise, such as birds and traffic, the voices often were difficult to understand.

After being informed he was going to be taken to jail on a Brown County warrant, Sallee asked for an attorney near the end of the interview.

When taken into custody, the defendant had $96 in cash, Roberts testified.

What's next

Testimony in the Samuel Sallee murder trial is expected to resume at 8:30 a.m. today from members of the Indiana State Police laboratory, said former Sheriff Mark Gorbett, who is serving as lead investigator in the trial.   

It’s possible that after that scientific testimony concludes, the state may be ready to wrap up its case, Gorbett said.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.