Alisha Burns took the witness stand for nearly four hours on Friday in the first day of an evidentiary hearing she hopes will result in a judge overturning her second-degree murder conviction from 2003.
Burns, now 33, has been out of prison since July 15 and living in Boulder City. But her conviction carries lifetime parole, and with it comes the fear that even a minor violation could land her back behind bars.
“With this lifetime supervision over my head, I feel like I can’t get on with my life,” she said during a recent interview.
Burns claims she was a teen victim of sex trafficking — not an accomplice in a murder.
In court on Friday, Burns tearfully described details of the night of Sept. 25, 2002, the night that led to her conviction. She said that she, then 15, her boyfriend, then-32-year-old Steven Kaczmarek, and his friend “Tommy” needed money for a place to stay, so she lured a man on Fremont Street for sex.
The man, 58-year-old Pedro Villareal, offered to buy Burns a drink, she testified. He bought her a Sprite at the McDonald’s in what was then known as Fitzgeralds, then Kaczmarek spoke with him to set a price of $200 for sex with Burns. The four went to Villareal’s downtown apartment and drank beer until Kaczmarek said the mirror in the bathroom was broken, Burns testified.
She said that when Villareal went to look at the mirror, Kaczmarek put him in a headlock and Tommy punched the man in the stomach until he went unconscious and fell to the floor. Kaczmarek gave Burns a knife to cut an electrical cord from the back of a box fan, she said, and he used it to tie Villareal’s wrists before he and Tommy carried the victim to the bathtub.
The three took whatever valuable items they could find, cleaned the room, made the bed and wiped down all surfaces to avoid leaving fingerprints, Burns said.
But when prosecutor Christopher Hamner cross-examined Burns in court on Friday, he focused heavily on three documents: a letter Burns wrote in December 2002 confessing her guilt, testimony from a correctional officer who worked with Burns and said the girl had confessed the crime to her, and Burns’ petition for writ of habeas corpus.
Hamner dissected the documents at length, questioning Burns specifically about dozens of details in each. He pointed out inconsistencies between her story and the documents, including whether she knew they were going to rob Villareal, what her role was in the crime, how they restrained Villareal and details about the state of the apartment when they left.
Burns said the letter she had penned was inaccurate and that it was copied verbatim from a letter Kaczmarek wrote to her while they were in prison. She said the correctional officer’s statement also was inaccurate, claiming she had never confessed anything to the woman. She said her legal petition was compiled by another inmate who reviewed Burns’ paperwork, and she never reviewed the petition before it was mailed out.
Hamner was still questioning Burns, who pleaded guilty in 2003, when the hearing concluded for the day. It is set to resume Oct. 23.
Until then, Burns is moving to Washington to live with her husband and stepson. She said she’ll fly back to town for future court dates.