Guilty in overkill slaying of Iraq vet

Posted: March 25, 2011

A Newark, Del. man was found guilty of first degree murder in the brutal slaying of a two-time Iraq veteran from Montgomery County.

Sean Burton, 42, showed no emotion as the jury returned a verdict after deliberating three and a half hours. He faces a life sentence without parole.

In June, 2010, Burton killed James Stropas, 32, of Norristown as he left a Dunkin' Donuts in Springfield Township, Delaware County.

Stropas, a decorated Army sergeant from Norristown, was dating Burton's estranged wife, Theresa Murphy. He had just bought breakfast and was returning to her home when he was attacked.

"It doesn't change the outcome," said Peter Stropas, the victim's older brother. "At least the person responsible is no longer free."

Stephanie L. Wills, assistant district attorney, told the jury in her closing arguments, the case was about jealousy, control and planning.

"This is a classic jealous husband case," Wills said. Stropas was unaware Murphy had told Burton they would get back together, Wills said.

In the day's leading up to the murder, Burton attached a GPS device to the victim's car to secretly stalk him. He combed the Internet late at night searching for drugs powerful enough to kill a deer. In his van were a shovel, hatchet, duct tape, plastic ties, gasoline and black plastic gloves. Burton took photos with his iPhone of the victim's Jeep Cherokee parked outside Murphy's home.

"We knew we had a lot of evidence," she said after the verdict was announced.

Mark Much, Burton's defense attorney, told the jury his client was trying to prove Stropas lived with Murphy so he would not have to pay alimony should there be a divorce.

In his closing argument, Much told the jury nobody planning a murder would do it in front of a Dunkin' Donuts.

"Who goes to doughnut shops? Cops," said Much.

In the parking lot of the Delaware County shopping center, Burton stabbed Stropas more than 70 times in with an 8-inch butcher knife.

Stropas suffered wounds to his back, spleen, lung and arteries in his neck. As Stropas lay dying, face down in the passenger side floor of his Jeep Cherokee, Burton took the wheel, sat on the victim's legs and, drove off.

Burton said he was headed to a hospital to get help for Stropas. Instead, he ended up in nearby Smedley Park less than a mile away from the murder scene.

"James Stropas survived two tour in Iraq to be brutally slain by the defendant in Springfield Township," said Wills in her closing argument.


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

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