Burd gets life in prison
City man pleads to first-degree murder in death of 16-month-old
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A 23-year-old Altoona man was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for causing the 2018 death of his then-girlfriend’s 16-month-old daughter, Angela Elizabeth Jones Beard.
Blair County President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle imposed the sentence after Drue S. Burd assured her of his desire to plead guilty to first-degree murder, with malice, defined in court as an intentional killing that was willful, deliberate and premeditated.
Burd was scheduled for trial in September where a jury, if it reached a first-degree murder conviction, would have then considered a life or death sentence.
In court Friday, Burd sometimes hesitated when Doyle questioned him about his decision to render a guilty plea for the recommended sentence.
“I don’t want to put certain people through a trial,” Burd said in explaining his decision. “I already hurt a lot of people.”
Burd also told Doyle he still wanted to render the plea even though he wasn’t fully satisfied with the legal representation provided by Chief Public Defender Russ Montgomery and Assistant Public Defender John Siford.
“I don’t think they did the best they could,” Burd said.
Siford, who was in court on Friday with Burd, spoke of meeting numerous times with Burd, including Thursday at the Clearfield County Prison where they discussed his pending plea for a life sentence.
Siford also spoke of Burd’s remorse and his acknowledgment of responsibility.
Altoona police arrested Burd and charged him with murder and other offenses based on an investigation starting May 20, 2018, when officers went to an apartment on the 900 block of 23rd Avenue for a report of an infant in cardiac arrest.
At the apartment, an officer found Burd, then 19, attempting to administer CPR to the unconscious infant who was initially transported to UPMC Altoona, then flown by medical helicopter to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. She died four days later.
In an interview with Altoona police, Burd allegedly admitted that had put his hand over the child’s mouth and nose in an attempt to get her to be quiet and go to sleep.
Medical reports listed the child’s cause of death as massive neurological brain damage, suffocation and abuse. An additional medical report identified injuries to the child’s anus, with “penetrating trauma” as the most likely explanation.
Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky told Doyle that in exchange for the guilty plea to murder, he would withdraw Burd’s other charges. They included aggravated assault, strangulation, simple assault, endangering the welfare of a child and in a separate criminal case also filed by Altoona police, three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault.
“We’re moving forward with this plea today,” Elensky said, “because it’s the most significant charge and provides for life in prison without the possibility of parole.”
The prosecutor also said the recommended life sentence addresses what was “a brutal and senseless killing of a 16-month-old child … who endured a cruel death.”
Nearly a dozen family members and friends came to court to support Angela’s family members and friends, including those wearing T-shirts decorated with “Justice for Angie” lettering.
During the court proceeding, some cried and embraced.
Elensky advised Doyle that the child’s mother didn’t want to speak.
“It’s been very, very tough for her,” Elensky said.
In the child’s obituary, the family described 16-month-old Angela as “simply amazing in every way.”
“She showed how a very young child could make such a big impact on so many lives with her constant smile, love and happiness,” the obituary stated.
“I am so sorry for your loss,” Doyle said looking at the child’s family.
“You have a hole in your heart that will never be filled.”
The judge also recognized the sadness within the nearly dozen family and friends who came to court in Burd’s support.
When Elensky described Burd’s actions as intentional, one of his family members shook her head no in disagreement.
“This is a tragedy for Mr. Burd’s family as well,” Doyle said.
One of Burd’s family members said outside court that her family is glad that the matter is over.
“It was a tragic, stupid mistake,” she said. “And it’s sad that someone is dead and that another person will be in prison for the rest of his life.
Doyle proposed for both families that comfort may be found “in a higher power than this court.”
The judge also apologized for the length of time that the legal proceedings have taken. More than four years have passed since Altoona police filed charges against Burd, who remained in jail.
Burd’s case has involved several challenges, including attempts to keep prosecutors from using statements Burd made to police, the imposition of the death penalty because of his young age and lower intellect as well as delays associated with the procurement of psychological evaluations and expert reports.
“In a matter so serious, you cannot rush to judgment or rush the proceedings,” Doyle said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.