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Reheim D. Burke had pleaded guilty to lying to police about a shooting incident two years ago, but his lawyer argued Thursday that there were a couple of good reasons to keep him out of prison.
Burke, 40, was facing up to a three-month sentence for second-degree making a false statement, but State's Attorney Michael L. Regan had offered him a plea deal that gave his attorney the right to argue for a reduced sentence.
In his pitch to Judge Susan B. Handy, attorney Jeremiah Donovan said Burke works at two local fast food restaurants. The state automatically deducts money from Burke's paycheck to support his oldest child, and he uses the rest of his income to support himself, his fiancé and their new baby, Donovan said.
"If you send him to jail, he's going to lose both jobs," Donovan said. "When he gets out, he's going to have a difficult time finding a new job. I don't want to support those two kids while he's in jail."
Donovan said he was arguing not only as his client's attorney, but "as a citizen of Connecticut and the United States." Burke had a drug-fueled criminal history, but has not been charged with a serious crime in more than 10 years, according to his attorney.
Norwich police had arrested Burke after he admitted lying to them during an investigation of a November 26, 2011, shooting on Franklin Street. The victim, Tryon Williams, survived, and the shooter, David J. Sullivan, is serving an eight-year prison sentence. Burke was not involved in the shooting, but he knew what happened. Once the officers read him his rights, Burke told the truth, according to his attorney.
Donovan called on Burke's brother, a well-groomed man in a business suit, to help persuade the judge. Daee McKnight told Handy he knew Burke could change because he had changed his own life. The brothers had been raised by their grandmother in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bridgeport because their mother, who eventually died of AIDS, was incarcerated, McKnight said. Burke started using drugs at age 14 after he witnessed McKnight shooting a man "in his head at point blank range" after the man attacked Burke.
"God forgive me," said McKnight, who said he served 17 years in prison and now works as a re-entry coordinator for Fresh Start, which helps prisoners re-enter society after serving their time.
Burke said on his own behalf that he was not looking for "a free ride" but wants to have an opportunity to be a productive member of society and raise his kids. He said he is trying to obtain a commercial driver's license.
The judge gave Burke a fully suspended sentence with 18 months of probation. She said that when faced with arrest, he actually did cooperate with the police. She told him he didn't belong in the criminal justice system.
"You can hopefully contribute to society and continue to support your children," Handy said.