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Samuel E. Sallee, long considered the prime suspect in a May 11 quadruple homicide in Waynesville, was charged Friday with four counts of murder a little more than seven months after police launched an investigation into the brutal killings.
“Today, a warrant has been issued for Sam Sallee,” Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett said Friday afternoon. “We are confident that the evidence has led us to Sam Sallee, the one responsible for these brutal murders.”
Sallee, 56, has been in police custody since four days after the killings.
He was jailed May 15 in Batholomew County, picked up on a Brown County warrant for receiving stolen property. He was transferred to the Brown County Jail two days later and has been in federal custody since Aug. 5, when U.S. marshals picked him up for being a felon in possession of a firearm. If convicted, he can be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison for that offense. Most recently, he was being held in a prison in Henderson, Ky., according to U.S. court records.
A federal indictment filed in late May said that three days after the Waynesville slayings, police discovered that Sallee possessed a Ruger, Model 10/22 .22-caliber rifle. Investigators found it hidden in the rafters of a garage at a house where Sallee was living in Columbus with a man named Malcolm England, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court by federal firearms agent John O’Boyle.
Due to past felony convictions for intimidation and driving under the influence, Sallee wasn’t legally permitted to have a firearm.
On Friday, an affidavit prepared by Gorbett and filed in Bartholomew Circuit Court said .22-caliber shell casings were found in the home at 2634 E. Main Cross St. in Waynesville, where three men and a woman were found shot through their skulls. Found dead were Katheryn M. Burton, 53; Thomas W. Smith, 39; Aaron T. Cross, 41; and Shawn L. Burton, 40.
Katheryn M. “Kathy” Burton
Parents: Robert Petro and Phyllis Marie Miller Lucas
Family: Son, Daniel Burton; sister, Pam Zurbrugg
Hobbies: Fishing, camping, water sports and tubing
Shawn L. Burton
Parents: Dennis and Jewel Alley Burton
Family: Son, Dylan Burton; daughters, Macey Burton and Hydie Burton; brothers, Carl Furkin, Steve Furkin, Mark Kelsay, and Raymie Kelsay
Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, hunting mushrooms, camping and enjoying the outdoors
Aaron T. Cross
Parents: Alton and Vickie Bryant Cross
Family: Wife, Kelly (Taylor) Cross; children, Jessica Cross, Kasey Cross and Hunter Cross; stepsons, Dylan Burton and Austin Muncy; grandchildren, Brysin Goodpaster and Braydin Goodpaster; sisters, Mellissa Caffee and Summer Sebastian
Military: Indiana Army National Guard
Hobbies: NASCAR, hunting, fishing and spending time with family and friends
Thomas W. Smith
Parents: Anthony Wayne and Glenda Kay Wilson Smith
Family: Sisters, Cindy Rickman and Tracy Smith
Military: U.S. Marine Corps
Hobbies: Fishing and being outdoors
The affidavit also says shell casings fired from the same weapon were found in a field where Sallee was known to take target practice with a .22-caliber weapon.
It is unclear whether police have found — and have in their possession — the gun that fired the shell casings found at the murder scene.
The affidavit doesn’t say the .22-caliber rifle pulled from a garage at 380 Parkway Drive, where Sallee had been living, is the murder weapon.
Instead, the affidavit lays out detailed circumstantial evidence attempting to link Sallee to the crime scene. That includes the statement of Daniel Burton, 28, the son of shooting victim Katheryn Burton, who said Sallee was at the house on East Main Cross Street around 3 p.m. May 11, trying to sell a gun to his mother’s boyfriend, Thomas Smith.
Evidence in the federal case against Sallee says that gun was a .22-caliber rifle. The murder case affidavit, however, doesn’t specify what sort of weapon it was.
When Sallee was interviewed by investigators not long after the killings, he acknowledged being at the Waynesville house in the afternoon of May 11 but said he was trying to sell a pellet gun, not a .22-rifle. He said everyone was alive when he left the property.
Gorbett said Bartholomew County officials will discuss transferring Sallee from federal custody back to Columbus to face the four murder charges in the near future. Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann signed a warrant for Sallee’s arrest around 1 p.m. Friday.
Murder in Indiana carries a minimum sentence of 45 years in prison, and in cases where there are multiple deaths, the state could seek the death penalty. If Sallee were convicted of four murders — and sentences were imposed consecutively — he could get a total of at least 180 years in jail.
Prosecutor William Nash said he has discussed capital punishment law with several family members related to the four murder victims, and no decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty against Sallee.
Nash said the length of death penalty trials and the complex series of appeals that result after a conviction is secured sometimes argue in favor of seeking lengthy prison terms for a defendant rather than a death sentence.
“No decision has been made in this case,” Nash said Friday.
Other evidence detailed
Sheriff’s investigators launched the Bartholomew County Death Investigation team within hours of the four bodies being discovered by Daniel Burton after 10 p.m. May 11 when he returned from working a shift at a Taco Bell restaurant.
The team includes the Sheriff’s Department, Columbus City Police, Indiana State Police, County Coroner Larry Fisher, Nash and, in this case, special agent O’Boyle of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gorbett said all those agencies were instrumental in bringing the case forward to this point.
“I have 40 policemen to cover a community of 70,000 people and handle other crimes. We’re taxed on manpower at times,” Gorbett said. “In these sorts of cases, all the agencies have to come together no matter the color of their uniforms.”
The affidavit filed in Circuit Court and signed personally by Gorbett includes a number of facts putting Sallee either at or on his way to the crime scene in Waynesville on May 11.
England, who told police he had been allowing Sallee to stay at his Parkway Drive residence, said Sallee owed him money and couldn’t pay, according to the affidavit. Then, around 8 p.m. May 11, Sallee came home and handed England some money, “and told him he got it by working for a guy called Gabby,” the affidavit says.
It goes on to quote England as saying that Sallee did laundry and shaved his beard later that Mother’s Day weekend, even though he’d worn the whiskers for several years.
“England was further able to tell investigators that Sallee had a .22-caliber rifle with a scope ... and he indicated that he’d last seen the gun in Sallee’s truck approximately three to four days before his interview, which would have been Thursday or Friday, May 10 or May 11,” the legal document says.
The affidavit also says that investigators reviewed videotapes from stores along the route between Parkway Drive and Waynesville.
Sallee’s 1978 Chevy brown truck with gray primer, with tool boxes in the truck bed, shows up traveling south on Jonesville Road in the direction of the crime scene at 3:16 p.m., and it is seen northbound on the same road at 7:45 p.m., Gorbett’s affidavit says. The images were pulled from a surveillance video on cameras at Huckaby’s Auto Electric store on Jonesville Road.
Police also interviewed Sallee’s teenage son, Nathaniel Sallee, who said his father had given him a .22-caliber rifle two or three years ago and then borrowed it and never returned it. Police also uncovered a May 7 voice mail message to Sallee from his son saying, “You need to bring my gun back home with the clip.”
Sheriff’s investigators talked with Sam Sallee’s brother-in-law, Charles Clark of Nashville, who said Sallee used to live in a camper on his property on Four Mile Ridge Road.
“He (Clark) further showed a detective an area where Sallee would target shoot on the property with a rifle,” the affidavit says. Investigators recovered “spent .22-caliber casings in that location.”
Nash said he attended a meeting with State Police ballistics expert Rafael Perez on Thursday. Nash said markings on casings that are fired from a particular weapon bear a distinct pattern “much like fingerprints.”
He said it’s possible to determine which particular gun fired a bullet casing and then compare it to other casings to prove they were shot from the identical firearm.
Gorbett’s affidavit said jewelry that belonged to murder victim Katheryn Burton, Taco Bell pins that belonged to her son and a number of Led Zeppelin CDs in a box labeled “Kathy” were found at the home Sallee shared with England.
Police later searched a trash bin at an unoccupied house next door and found three wallets from murder victims Smith, Cross and Shawn L. Burton hidden in a cardboard box. Officers “chipped away” expandable foam sealant in the cardboard box and discovered the empty wallets underneath the foam.
“At the scene, we had also located Katheryn Burton’s purse, which also contained no paper currency and appeared as though it had been rifled through,” Gorbett said in his affidavit.
Gorbett said in an interview that investigators moved as quickly as they could have in the Waynesville probe.
“I appreciate the patience that has been shown by the families of the victims, the media and the members of our community,” the sheriff said. “There cannot be a rush to judgment.”
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