Updated Mon, Jul 1, 2013 8:53 am
If not for a felony charge levied against him, Joe Burch probably would still be spending time with the friend he allegedly was hired to kill.
“If the neighbor hadn’t called (law enforcement), we’d probably be having a beer tonight,” Burch said.
At about 3:30 a.m. on June 23, Burch, 49, was arrested and charged with felonious assault, a second-degree felony, after a drunken fight with his longtime friend, Charles Gilkey. Deputies had responded to 16 Plum St. in Chauncey, where a third party had reported that a possible shooting had occurred.
After initial reports by the sheriff’s office alleged that Burch claimed he was hired to kill Gilkey, Burch met with The Messenger to “tell his side of the story.”
Gilkey had called the third party saying Burch had threatened to kill him, according to the report by Athens County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Tabler.
The report states that Gilkey said Burch “shot at him with a rifle while inside the trailer.” This detail, and most of what deputies and Gilkey reported, isn’t true, according to Burch.
“It’s all fabricated and fiction,” Burch told The Messenger.
Over the years, Burch and Gilkey had made deals for guns, jewelry and a riding lawnmower, Burch claimed. So when Burch started talking about a motorcycle he had, the discussion was similar to past deals they’d made. When Burch went to Gilkey’s house on June 23, he decided to bring a two-liter bottle, half Jim Beam, half Pepsi. After discussing the motorcycle, Burch walked home to get it and bring it to Gilkey’s, according to Burch.
“By the time I got back, (Gilkey) had drank three-fourths of that two liter,” Burch said. “He said, ‘I’m messed up, man.’”
According to the report, both Gilkey and Burch were intoxicated but Burch disputed that, saying he was not drunk and that he only had “about four sips” although he admitted to consuming alcohol earlier in the day as well. He claimed he offered to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test but none was performed.
Burch claims he wanted to talk to Gilkey about the approximately $3,000 he said Gilkey owed him, but after Gilkey allegedly said he was drunk, Burch decided not to. Burch alleged that Gilkey then brought a .22 rifle from a room in the trailer.
“I told him I couldn’t be around guns,” Burch said, adding that he had a protection order placed against him and had been in trouble for having guns in his possession because of it. “I wanted to get out of there.”
According to Tabler’s report however, Burch had asked Gilkey if he wanted to trade the motorcycle for the rifle and that Burch was in possession of the firearm.
“(Burch) ... pointed it at (Gilkey) and stated that he was hired to kill him,” the report states.
The report also states that after wrestling the gun away from Burch, Gilkey said the gun wasn’t loaded and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, firing a round that ricocheted around the kitchen of the trailer and went into the kitchen floor.
A physical altercation then began.
Burch told The Messenger he wasn’t sure whether the gun was thrown or dropped, but he alleged Gilkey was the one in possession of the gun and the only time Burch came in contact with it was to kick it away from him after it hit the floor. The fact that Burch kicked the gun away is stated in the report as well.
As far as the physical altercation, Burch claimed that because of how intoxicated Gilkey allegedly was, most of the “fight” was Burch trying to get away from Gilkey.
“The bumps and bruises he got were from falling in and out of the trailer because he couldn’t stand upright,” Burch alleged.
Burch said he sustained a black eye after Gilkey allegedly hit him with a piece of wood he thought was a baseball bat or a two-by-four. While he was on the ground, Gilkey punched him in the eye, Burch told The Messenger. He said he did not attack Gilkey in any way.
When deputies responded, they asked if a gun had been involved in the altercation.
“I said no because the gun wasn’t involved in the altercation,” Burch said. “The gun had nothing to do with it.”
Burch said deputies tested his hands for gunshot residue twice and asked if he had washed his hands since the incident. He said he had not washed up and claimed he tested negative for any gunshot residue.
Burch told The Messenger that before Gilkey allegedly brought out the gun, he wasn’t aware that Gilkey had a gun in the house and can’t understand how reports came out that he was the one with the gun.
“I never had a gun pointed at me, Mr. Gilkey was never in danger,” Burch said. “He shot the gun, he admitted he shot the gun.”
The report states that Gilkey had to wrestle the gun from Burch and that Gilkey pulled the trigger under the assumption that the gun wasn’t loaded. The firearm discharged, and the bullet ricocheted through the room before going into the kitchen floor.
Burch claimed that his arrest was based on personal feelings the sheriff has toward a member of his family. He is confident Gilkey never would have called law enforcement himself.
As for calling himself a hitman, Burch denies having said such a thing.
“If I was being a hitman ... I need a new profession because I’m terrible at it,” Burch said. “I’m no angel ... but this did not happen the way they are saying it happened.”
Burch told The Messenger that he will see the case through to a jury trial if necessary and that he would not take a plea deal. He said that after the case is concluded that he will eventually take legal action against the sheriff’s office for allegedly arresting him for a crime he didn’t commit.
“When I take this to court, it’s going to be dropped or I’m going to fight it,” Burch said.
Burch’s next court hearing is scheduled for July 2.