‘Dang, This Is Heavy’: Cousin Says He Unknowingly Moved Body
The blue tote container felt heavy as Erick Carlson helped lug it into his car on Aug. 31, 2017.
He never asked his cousin, Josh Hupperterz, what the tote contained.
"I said, 'Dang, this is heavy,'" Carlson recalled saying that day at his cousin's apartment in North Philadelphia near Temple University.
Inside, it turned out, was the body of 22-year-old Temple student Jenna Burleigh, authorities said.
More details of a grisly beating and slaying of Burleigh were revealed Wednesday morning as Carlson and others took the stand on day three of the murder trial of Hupperterz. He is accused of killing Burleigh, then trying to cover up the slaying.
Carlson, a 30-year-old steel mill worker and lifelong Philadelphian, said he found Hupperterz cleaning up blood in his North Philadelphia apartment on that afternoon in August.
Hupperterz told Carlson that he had cut his hand on a broken beer bottle and needed help taking some books to his mom's house in Jenkintown.
Hupperterz seemed "normal," Carlson, who has not been charged with a crime, said in court. On that particular day in 2017, Carlson visited Hupperterz to buy marijuana. The two smoked as Hupperterz cleaned up blood, Carlson said in court.
Later, Hupperterz and Carlson moved the blue tote container to Carlson's car, according to video showed in court.
The blue tote was also on display Wednesday morning when the prosecutors introduced it into evidence.
The two had been friends for a longtime, according to Carlson. They first met as children when Carlson's uncle married Hupperterz's mother. The marriage only lasted six years, but the friendship remained.
After dropping off the bag in Jenkintown, Hupperterz allegedly transferred Burleigh's remains to a large bin and used the ride-sharing app Lyft to order a car. The driver of that car also testified Wednesday, saying that Hupperterz offered to pay him $200 in cash and asked that the app, which uses GPS to track a ride, be turned off.
The driver testified that the bin "felt like bricks."
Hupperterz appeared to be tired in the backseat, taking a nap en route to his grandparent's home in rural Pennsylvania, the driver said.
A juror was dismissed Wednesday after recognizing the Lyft driver. He will be replaced by an alternate.
During the first day of testimony, Hupperterz claimed innocence. He said his roommate killed Burleigh in an attempt to quiet her screams during a knife attack.
Defense attorney David Nenner told a jury that Burleigh, 22, sliced Hupperterz, 29, in the hand with a knife while she resisted anal intercourse in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2017. The two had met a short time earlier at a bar near Temple's campus.
The argument spilled into the kitchen of Hupperterz's North 16th Street apartment where, according to Nenner, Burleigh stabbed Hupperterz. Nenner said Huppertertz's roommate ran into the kitchen after hearing screams, attacked Burleigh and ultimately strangled her to death.
Hupperterz pleaded not guilty to murder and using an instrument of a crime. He pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence for moving Burleigh's body to his grandparent's house.
Hupperterz's grandfather allegedly found Burleigh's body one day after a Philadelphia police detective and FBI agent visited the property.
But on Tuesday, prosecutors rebuked Nenner's version of events. Assistant District Attorney Jason Grenell said Hupperterz, after having oral, vaginal and anal intercourse with Burleigh, took “her down to the ground and strangled her, naked, on the kitchen floor.”
Grenell said Hupperterz punched the film student 38 times, broke a cereal bowl over her head, stabbed her repeatedly after wrestling a knife from her, then strangled her, so severely he broke her larynx.
“Its every parents worst nightmare. You stare at the phone waiting for the call,” Grenell said. “The Burleighs would never have that. They would never hear from their daughter again.”
Hupperterz turned down a plea offer in December from the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, which had offered 30-to-60 years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. Hupperterz could face up to life in prison if convicted at trial which is expected to last for up to two weeks.
Initial accounts by investigators of Burleigh's death alleged a grisly murder and cover-up that are eerily similar to circumstances surrounding Hupperterz's father's murder 24 years earlier.
The body of Octavio Hupperterz was found wrapped in a trash bag outside of a business in the Wyndmoor section of Springfield Township, Montgomery County, in 1993. Josh Hupperterz was 4 at the time.
Octavio died from a bullet to the back of the head, his hands tied behind his back and shoved into a garbage bag when he was found.
Sources had told NBC10 in 2017 that investigators believed the elder Hupperterz, who lived in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, was killed at another location and his body dumped in Montgomery County.