Trial opens in Mount Holly in deadly Philadelphia carjacking

Lenroy Laurance had the stolen car.
Lenroy Laurance had the stolen car.
Posted: September 23, 2011

Sitting in her new Nissan Murano the morning of Sept. 2, 2009, parked in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, Lyudmila Burshteyn was a marked woman, authorities say.

The 57-year-old Russian émigré, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was waiting for the housing inspection of a rental property she managed when three men approached her, officials said.

Within moments, Burshteyn had become the victim of a carjacking that would lead to her death in a secluded area of Burlington County.

"She fit the bill for what they were looking for," Raymond E. Milavsky, first assistant Burlington County prosecutor, told a jury Thursday in Superior Court. One man, who carried a basketball, asked for directions, giving the trio an opening to force their way into Burshteyn's car, he said.

Five hours later, after being pistol-whipped and blindfolded with her dress, the Northeast Philadelphia resident was taken from the backseat and shot once behind the left ear, the prosecutor said.

Lenroy Laurance, now on trial in Mount Holly, was the organizer of the carjacking, Milavsky said.

Laurance wanted a vehicle so that he could drive to Exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike to hunt for his two guns, which his girlfriend had thrown out when they crashed a rental car there a few days earlier. Laurance drove the passenger-packed Nissan on and off the ramp in Linden eight times but never found the weapons, the prosecutor said.

Laurance, then a 27-year-old resident of Philadelphia's Kensington section, is charged with felony murder, kidnapping, and carjacking. If convicted, he faces a life sentence.

Felony murder means he participated in a crime that led to a death, Milavsky said. "It doesn't matter who pulled the trigger," he said.

Laurance was not the shooter, said defense lawyer Michael E. Riley. That was Kareem Harrison of North Philadelphia, he alleged.

Harrison has admitted that he participated in the abduction and has agreed to testify against the others.

"The state's case is built on the shifting sands of Mr. Harrison's testimony, a murderer who's lying to get a deal," Riley said.

Harrison, 17 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter last year and could get 30 years, of which he must serve at least 251/2.

Harrison's cousin Robby Willis, who was 27, is awaiting trial on charges of felony murder, as is Marcus White, who was 19 when he allegedly joined the men after the kidnapping of Burshteyn. Both are from Philadelphia.

Police recovered a pair of gloves on which Harrison's DNA was found, Riley said.

"The person who killed Mrs. Burshteyn was wearing the gloves," Riley said, referring to Harrison. He was a "successful drug dealer" who had stolen guns from his competition, the Mount Holly lawyer said.

According to Milavsky, the strongest evidence against Laurance is what he said after he was arrested in the Nissan, traveling 101 m.p.h. in South Carolina three days after the killing.

At first, Milavsky said, Laurance told police that he didn't have any guns.

When he got into the front seat to join his friends, Laurance said, he wasn't aware that Burshteyn was in the rear, alive and lying blindfolded on the floor.

By the end of the interrogation, Laurance acknowledged that he owned guns and had gone to search for them on the turnpike ramp, said Milavsky, who played video clips of the questioning for the jury.

Finally, Milavsky said, Laurance was asked if he had exited the car when Burshteyn was taken outside and shot.

He took "39 seconds for a simple question," then finally answered, "I was there," Milavsky said.

The trial, before Judge Jeanne T. Covert, is expected to resume Tuesday and to take about two weeks.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com

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