Appeals court upholds conviction for man who stabbed mother to death

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SAN DIEGO -- A state appeals court Tuesday upheld the conviction of a man who fatally stabbed his mother in the Clairemont home they shared.

Joseph Robert Burks was convicted in 2018 of first-degree murder for the July 24, 2017, death of Angela Burks, a longtime science teacher at Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista.

Joseph Robert Burks listens as a jury delivers its verdict in his murder trial.

The 58-year-old victim was stabbed more than 20 times in the head, neck and throat and evidence at trial indicated a stun gun was also used on her.

Burks, who was 30 at the time of the killing, was sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison.

In his appeal, Burks' attorneys argued he should be considered for possible placement in a mental health diversion program due to an amended state law that went into effect last year.

If a person is found to suffer from a mental disorder that played a significant role in the crime, the defendant may be referred to a mental health treatment program for a period of no longer than two years, after which their criminal charges would be dismissed should they successfully complete the program, the attorneys argued.

Though the law as initially enacted would have applied to Burks, it was amended in late 2018 to exclude defendants convicted of murder and other violent felonies.

Burks sought to have the trial court consider diversion under the prior version of the law, but a three-justice panel from California's 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Burks was ineligible to have his case sent back to the lower court.

Prosecutors said the defendant called 911 about 7:15 p.m., telling dispatchers he had stabbed his mother and that she needed medical attention.

When officers arrived, they found the victim on her back and unresponsive inside the home in the 4300 block of Mount Putnam Avenue. The victim -- who had lost a lot of blood -- was taken to a trauma center, where she was pronounced dead.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey said the defendant watched his mother die, then cleaned up and made up a story that she attacked him and he had to defend himself.

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