Evil 'mummy' pleads guilty in church robbery

Samurai sword-wielding man terrorizes church full of Jehovah's Witnesses

Jim Farrell
The Edmonton Journal

Friday, August 01, 2003

Anthony Alan Burton in disguise.
CREDIT: Supplied

EDMONTON - When Bill Sokolik buzzed the stranger into the 121st Avenue Kingdom Hall last September, the first thing through the door of the church was a 60-centimetre- long Samurai sword. An apparition straight out of Curse of the Mummy followed. Anthony Alan Burton, the man who came to terrorize and rob the Jehovah's Witness church on the night of Sept. 3, 2002, had lengths of hospital gauze wrapped over the top of his head. His face was covered with silicone caulking putty and he had smeared pink foundation makeup over the putty. To add to the effect, his eyes were obscured by a large pair of glasses. Latex gloves encased his hands.

"I am the evil that you have read about," the 42-year-old Burton yelled out to the terrified worshippers in the hall that Tuesday night. "This is the face of evil." Some of those 65 people still suffer the after-effects of that terror, Sokolik said Thursday as he sat in an Edmonton courtroom alongside three other church members. The men had listened to Burton plead guilty to numerous criminal charges including being disguised during a robbery, robbery and possession of prohibited weapons. Judge P.G. Sully must now determine how to balance Burton's punishment and his need for rehabilitation. During his sentencing hearing, Burton's lawyer produced reports from three psychiatrists and one psychologist which described how his client had been clinically depressed at the time of his madcap robbery attempt.

Burton had run out of his medication several days earlier. That, plus job pressures and trying to fill the financial needs of a wife and three young children on a $15-an-hour wage, had driven him to desperation. Exhibits presented in court included a videotape of Burton talking to a police detective following his arrest. In that video, Burton wept as he talked about his inability to pay his bills. "I owe so much money to people," Burton said between sobs. "My whole life is falling apart. I'm just so tired of fighting all the time with life. "I just been working and working and working," he told Det. Bill Clark. "That's all I ever did -- work." In the months before his robbery attempt, Burton's world seemed to spin out of control, the psychiatrists' reports said. Depressed and withdrawn, he'd taken time off work. Medication got him back on the job, then the pills ran out. Burton decided to try something he'd done in 1989 when he robbed a pawn shop. He was caught and given a three-year-sentence for that crime but he would be more careful this time. He would disguise himself and pick a soft target.

Around 7 p.m. on the evening of Sept. 3, he parked his car a block away from the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall and applied his disguise. "They were good people. They wouldn't put up resistance," he later told police. "I could intimidate them." When Burton burst into the hall, children and women began screaming. Burton ignored their screams and instructed some of the men to collect all cash, credit cards, bank cards and card PIN numbers. To add emphasis to his words, Burton slashed a chair seven times with his sword, then grabbed a churchgoer and put the blade to the man's neck before releasing him. At the back of the church, a woman pulled a cellphone from her pocket. As one of the men collecting money stood in front of her, she huddled down and dialed 911. Police arrived within five minutes.

Pistol in hand, the first officer through the door of the church was Rick Franchuk, a self-described "constable-for-life." Franchuk yelled out to Burton to drop the sword. Burton instead tried to grab a woman but missed. He grabbed another woman by the shirt but let go when a churchgoer seized his arm. "I don't want to," he yelled when Franchuk demanded again that he drop the sword. "Shoot me! Shoot me!" Franchuk held his fire. Burton finally dropped his sword but still wouldn't surrender. "That's okay. I have more knives and weapons," he said. Burton finally laid down and police found a medieval-style mace in the pocket of his knee-length overcoat. Fastened to his leg with electrical tape was a 30-cm kitchen knife.

As they sat at the back of the courtroom on Thursday, the four members of the 121st Avenue Kingdom Hall couldn't forget the permanent damage Burton caused them and their families. The wife of one of those men filed a victim impact statement which describes how she still feels the stress of that night -- particularly when she goes to church. Citing sentencing precedents from home invasions, Crown prosecutor Tony Mah asked for a term of eight to 10 years. Defence lawyer Brad Leebody said a sentence of four to five years would be more appropriate, citing the need for rehabilitation and the fact that Burton has a wife and three children.

Burton returns to court Oct. 2 at which time Scully will set a date for sentencing.

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Edited by - kungfoolss on August 01 2003 14:35:30