Man pleads innocent in death of Arkansas woman whose burned body was found in cemetery

Posted: September 1, 2018 at 4 a.m.

HOT SPRINGS -- A parolee charged with capital murder in the death of a Hot Springs woman whose burned body was found Aug. 25 in a Royal cemetery pleaded innocent Friday in Garland County District Court.

Prosecutors indicated Friday that they plan to seek the death penalty for Kevin K. Buerke, 26, who is accused of killing 80-year-old Betty Slaughter.

Buerke, a parolee out of Wisconsin now living in Hot Springs, appeared via video during a plea and arraignment hearing before Judge Ralph Ohm, who ordered that Buerke be held without bond and set a felony review hearing for Oct. 22, although the case will likely be bound over to Garland County Circuit Court before then.

The arrest warrant and probable cause affidavit for Buerke, obtained Thursday evening by The Sentinel-Record, was ordered sealed Friday morning by Ohm, who also issued a gag order limiting pretrial publicity in the case.

Buerke has been in custody since his arrest Aug. 23 on a felony charge of second-degree forgery, also involving Slaughter, and had been held without bail on a parole hold. He had pleaded innocent to the forgery charge Aug. 24 with a felony review hearing scheduled for Oct. 15.

Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence and deputy prosecutor Kara Petro appeared for the state and indicated they planned to seek the death penalty, according to court records.

According to Wisconsin Department of Corrections records, Buerke pleaded no contest in December 2014 to misappropriating identity documents to obtain money orders, a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised parole.

Garland County sheriff's Lt. Joel Ware said Thursday that investigators had developed Buerke as a suspect early in the investigation and worked with the state Crime Laboratory and the prosecutor's office in obtaining enough evidence to file the charge against Buerke on Thursday afternoon.

Friends had reported Slaughter missing from her residence Aug. 22 and sheriff's investigators who went to her house found evidence of foul play. Footage from a neighbor's surveillance camera indicated a white male in a gold Ford Explorer was at the residence Aug. 21, the last time Slaughter was heard from.

Investigators located the vehicle and determined Buerke had been in possession of it at the time, according to an affidavit. They also obtained information Buerke had gone to a bank Aug. 22 with paperwork that would have granted him power of attorney for Slaughter, the affidavit said. It was determined that the paperwork was counterfeit, which resulted in the forgery charge.

Buerke was arrested the next day when he met with his parole officer and was driving the Ford Explorer at the time, the affidavit said. Evidence was found in the Explorer that also linked him to Slaughter's death, including blood later matched to Slaughter, according to the affidavit.

State Desk on 09/01/2018