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Stranger supports Paddock witness


Stranger supports Paddock witness

Woman with her own dark secret comforts victim's sibling

Mandy Locke, Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD - Last week, Jessy Paddock was just a slight young woman on Joyce Burkett's television screen, describing cruel punishment she said was unleashed by her stepmother Lynn Paddock.

Burkett, 66, a retiree who lives in Smithfield, shuddered to think of all that Jessy and her adopted siblings testified about enduring in a rural farmhouse outside of Smithfield. Burkett told her husband, Leo, they must go to court.

They would be there, she said, to look the Paddock children in the eye when they told of the kind of abuse Burkett wishes she'd been brave enough to talk about when she was a child.

Paddock's first-degree murder trial in the death of her 4-year-old adopted son, Sean, has drawn a few onlookers to court each day. For some, morbid curiosity brings them to the Johnston County courthouse to pass long hours on hard benches.

For others, the draw is something familiar about the testimony.

Burkett says she survived incessant belt beatings by her own father as she grew up in Montana. She kept the secret for decades, until she confronted her father, now dead. He was never charged.

The Burketts sit in the middle of the courtroom, staring at Paddock's estranged children as they testify. Joyce Burkett nods encouragingly now and again. When defense attorneys press the Paddock children harder than Burkett likes, she glares. Mostly, she silently prays that Jessy will survive another day.

"I wanted to give Jessy strength," Joyce Burkett said. "No one's here for her. Where are all these church people she speaks of? Where is a court advocate?"

Burkett and Jessy spoke for the first time Monday morning.

Jessy rushed out of the courtroom in tears after a prosecutor showed her pictures of Sean's bruised, blistered back. She fled to the women's bathroom.

Burkett followed. Without a word, Burkett opened her arms. Jessy collapsed into them.

Jessy shook; Burkett held tight.

"How could someone do something like that and get away with it?" Jessy finally asked Burkett.

Burkett nodded and said, "My father went to his grave at 90 and got away with it."

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8927

2008 Jun 3