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Teen Huntsville murder suspect, family plead with judge for release after brother killed in jail

He is currently being held in a protective isolation cell at the jail for his safety.

Posted: Oct 20, 2020 2:46 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 5:50 PM

A hearing was held on Tuesday by a Madison County judge to determine if a capital murder suspect should be released from jail on electronic monitoring or if he should remain in jail until his trial.

Hassan Erskine's attorney asked that he be released from the Madison County Jail after his brother was murdered in the jail on Oct. 9

Hassan Erskine

Attorneys for both the prosecution and defense spoke at the hearing.

Erskine and his mother both also spoke, pleading with the judge to release him. The victim's sister from the 2018 murder also spoke to the judge about if Erskine should be released or not.

Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner and Kevyn Hayes, Director of the Office of Alternative Sentencing, spoke to the judge as well about the decision.

Brian Clark, Erskine's attorney, addressed the judge first about the possible release. Clark talked about how there is conflicting testimony in the capital murder case for which Erskine is being held in the jail.

He stated Erskine was 17-years-old when the shooting happened and was previously released on electronic monitoring. Clark explained that his client had his bond revoked sometime after his release because he wasn't mature enough at the time to have electronic monitoring. Clark also pleaded to the judge that Erskine's mom has a serious cancer diagnosis and she is concerned for his safety.

Clark said he wants his client released from jail because there is conflicting testimony in the capital murder case, Erskine's mom is struggling after losing one child and asked the judge to consider giving Erskine one more chance for electronic monitoring.

Turner said in court that Erskine is currently being held in a protective isolation cell at the jail for his safety. Clark said if Erskine isn't released on electronic monitoring, he wants to be put back in general population to be close to other family members he currently has in the jail.

Bill Starnes, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, said Erskine is charged with capital murder because he and his now-deceased brother, Terran Burt, were accused of drawing guns on Charity Fennell in 2018. The two brothers are accused of robbing her during a drug deal. Starnes said he is sympathetic to Erskine's mother since she lost one her sons, but he doesn't think that means Erskine should be released.

Starnes also shared that when Erskine was out on electronic monitoring previously, he fired a weapon and didn't follow other conditions that were set for the monitoring. In regards to Erskine's safety in the jail, Starnes said in court that Erskine was in a completely separate area than his brother, Burt, and the suspect in his brother's murder, Michael Wheeler.

Starnes explained that prior to his death Terran Burt was upset about the shooting death of Josiah Sanderson, 18, that happened at Allure Martini Bar and Grill in February 2019. The prosecution explained there was a fight involving Burt just days before the fight that killed him.

Starnes said that Justin Wherry, 22, is currently in the jail for Sanderson's death. He said that Burt and another man beat up Wherry and that Wheeler tried to stop the fight inside their cell pod.

Starnes said Wheeler said no one was being jumped and fights would be man to man. The prosecution also said there is video of Wheeler pulling people out of the cell trying to stop the fight and Burt trying to get back into the cell.

Starnes said Wheeler delivered one punch to Burt and he went down that Friday morning. He said that's when he was transported to the hospital.

Clark, Erskine's attorney, responded to Starnes' claims and timeline of events by adding that people communicate throughout the jail. He said that his client, Erskine, was in a fight hours after Burt', death with Wheeler's friends in the jail.

Clark said it could be considered a "street gang" when referring to Wheeler's friends. Clark reiterated that's why Erskine wants to be in general population so he had his friends and family to protect him if he’s in jail.

Sheriff Turner was asked directly by the judge on his thoughts about keeping Erskine in jail.

"I’m not here to determine what’s happened in the past, I’m responsible for them and their safety," Turner said.

Turner addressed Clark's claim in his motion that gang members murdered Burt and also had the intent to hurt Erskine as well. The sheriff said initiating the verbiage of gangs is a trigger in the facility and by Clark filling that motion it put Turner in a spot to make sure Erskine's safe. Turner explained that's why he put Erskine in isolation.

Turner also directly addressed Erskine and Burt's mother who was in the courtroom. He told her he'd love to put Erskine back in his pod, but if something happened to him, he would be responsible because of the allegations filed in the motion by Clark. Turner assured her if Erskine is in the jail, he would make sure he is OK.

"He is a 19-year-old young man, and it’s my job to make sure he’s OK," Turner said in court.

Turner added if he was put back in general population, he would need something on record from the family, judge, or attorney saying it’s OK.

"I want to do right by you and your mother, and I know it’s tough being in there’s by yourself," he said to Erskine in court.

Erskine's mother also addressed the court and told the judge she fears for her son's life.

She said she was not in a good state to bury one son and doesn’t want to have to bury another if something was to happen to Erskine.

His mother stated that she herself is dying from cancer and that her family is currently in turmoil. She told the courtroom that Burt, Wheeler, and Wherry should have never been placed in the same pod because of their pasts. She went on to tell the court she hasn't buried Burt yet.

She told the judge that she understands that her son already had his first electronic release revoked, but she thought he was released too quickly the first time. His mother explained to the judge that she wanted him to serve more time to learn more of his lesson to take his release seriously. She now believes he has.

She also said that if he was on 24-hour lockdown she understands he couldn't attend his brother's funeral or check the mail. Erskine and Burt's mother told the judge that she needs him out of jail to not pass away so quickly.

After Erskine's mother addressed the court, he also addressed the court about his potential release and his brother's death. He said that he was immature when he was released the first time and he didn't have the money to pay for the release and couldn't meet the conditions.

Erskine maintained his innocence in the capital murder case. He said after going back to jail he had time to sit, mature and think about, his mistakes and what I did. Erskine promised the judge he has grown up, learned his lesson and can admit when he is wrong.

Erskine also said if he was released, he could use a settlement check from a car wreck when he was young that he could use to pay his electronic monitoring conditions.

Judge Comer asked Erskine why he wants to go back to general population and be moved out of isolation if he is not given electronic monitoring.

He explained being by himself for a large part of the day doesn't do him any good since he is currently in isolation. He said being in isolation makes him think about everything that has happened all day.

Erskine told the Judge that Burt and him were working to change for the better while they were in jail. He said he is trying to be strong for him mom. He said he doesn’t know how to cope with his feelings of loss, hurt, pain and it makes him want to give up and be with his big brother. He said he would like to be home and be with his mom and bury his brother. He told the judge he would use his settlement check to help pay for his brother's funeral.

After Erskine pleaded with Judge Comer to release him from jail, a sister of Charity Fennell, the woman he is accused of murdering, spoke to Erskine, the judge and the entire courtroom.

She said the pain that Erskine's family is feeling is the pain her family has been feeling for two years since their sister was killed. She claimed they've been disrespected on Facebook and were told multiple times by people associated with the suspect's family that they were glad their sister was dead.

The victim's sister spoke directly to Erskine and said, "I don't feel safe if you're out. She said they have lost family members as well when people in their family were locked up in jail and their family member wasn't released because someone in their family was terminally ill. Fennell's sister said she doesn't feel like that is a reason to let Erskine out.

The judge has not yet ruled aif Erskine will be released from jail on electronic monitoring or if he will stay in jail without bond.

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