Trial continues for man accused of murdering Temple student

Kristen Johanson
January 08, 2019 - 9:01 pm
From left: Jenna Burleigh, Joshua Hupperterz

Philadelphia Police Department

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Joshua Hupperterz says he is not guilty of murdering Jenna Burleigh in 2017 after the pair met at a bar near Temple University's campus.

Burleigh went missing Aug. 31. Her bloody body was later found on the property of Hupperterz's grandmother in Hawley, Pennsylvania. An autopsy report found Burleigh had been beaten, stabbed and strangled, her larynx fractured.

Burleigh's disappearance was widely reported, as authorities searched for the missing 22-year-old for three days.

Detectives zeroed in on Hupperterz as the suspect after seeing the pair leaving together on surveillance video at the bar Pub Webb, where Burleigh was out with some friends. The two are seen walking to Hupperterz's apartment on North 16th Street from other cameras in the neighborhood.

Philadelphia detectives say they tried to reach Hupperterz several times after the owner of Pub Webb identified him as the man leaving with Burleigh on the video. Police say Hupperterz dodged follow-up calls and meetings.

During the first day of trial, the 30-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to two charges: abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence. 

RELATED: Man accused of killing Temple student in 2017 pleads guilty to 2 charges

Prosecutors say Hupperterz murdered Burleigh, contorted her naked body to fit inside a blue storage bin and then had his cousin drive him and the box to his mother’s garage in Jenkintown. Later, they say, he called a Lyft to pick up the storage bin from the suburbs and take it to his grandmother’s home. During the preliminary hearing in the fall of 2017, the Lyft driver said Hupperterz asked to pay cash so he would not be tracked. 

The defense has conceded it was Hupperterz who removed the body, but they point to his roommate as the killer. 

A student who lived above the defendant’s apartment testified she called police twice in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2017, when authorities believe Burleigh was killed. Prosecutors played two 911 tapes from when she called: first, when the witness said she heard loud banging sounds coming from outside the apartment building; second, about an hour later when she heard “what sounded like someone getting murdered, but worse.” 

While the audio tape rolled, the witness wiped away tears while on the stand.

A friend of Hupperterz who works at an urgent care facility in Horsham testified the defendant sought medical care for a deep puncture wound on his hand the day after Burleigh went missing. Hupperterz, he said, told him he cut himself on a thorn bush, but would not go into detail. 

The witness also told the jury the defendant had a visible wound on his heel.

After days of trying, police were able to track Hupperterz to the Poconos. State troopers went to the grandmother’s home, and asked if Hupperterz would go to barracks "to answer some questions." He eventually agreed, and brought his grandmother with him. 

Defense attorney David Nenner tried to get video statements of troopers questioning Hupperterz thrown out, as well as statements Hupperterz later made to central detectives. The defense say officers slammed the suspect’s head into the ground and that he had seizures in front of them, but that they never sought medical treatment for him.

Prosecutors say the defendant never said anything about the alleged assault on record, never asked for medical attention and doesn't have a history of seizures. 

A judge threw out Hupperterz’s statement taken down by Homicide Detective Joe Murray. 

During the motions hearing in December, Hupperterz took the stand, many times telling prosecutors "he didn't remember" what happened the night Burleigh disappeared or that he brought her body to the Poconos. But he did insist he was not the one who killed Burleigh, suggesting it was his roommate who threw her down the stairs and stomped on her head. 

So far, five witnesses have testified, including the urgent care worker, the woman who lived upstairs, the owner of the bar, the bartender and a friend of Burleigh’s who she texted the night she was last seen.  

Prosecutors have played surveillance video of the pair leaving the bar, and two audio clips of the 911 calls.

The defense has been trying to divert attention away from Hupperterz and towards the defendant’s roommate. 

Testimony will continue Wednesday.