Durham woman accused of murder spurns guilty plea, telling judge ‘I want to fight’

Ashley Nicole Burris, 33, of Durham.
Ashley Nicole Burris, 33, of Durham. Courtesy of the Durham Police Department

Ashley Nicole Burris stood in her orange jail jumpsuit at the Durham Courthouse before what was expected to be her guilty murder plea.

Burris, 34, of Durham, was arrested May 12, 2018, and charged with first-degree murder in the death of 54-year-old Michael Anthony Bullock of Durham.

On Thursday, over a year later, Burris was scheduled to plead guilty to a second-degree murder charge.

But before the hearing began, Burris turned to her lawyer, Daniel Meier, and said, “I’m not ready for this.”

On March 31, 2018, Durham police officers responded to a 911 cardiac arrest call on East Umstead Street. Inside Bullock’s home, officers found him dead, The Herald-Sun previously reported.

His body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy and the findings led police to investigate it as a homicide, spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.

According to CBS17, the autopsy showed Bullock was stabbed five times and had a history of seizures and substance abuse. A toxicology report found alcohol and cocaine in his body.

Burris told Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. on Thursday that she did not kill Bullock and said Meier was pressuring her into pleading guilty and admitting that she did it.

Meier shook his head and denied the claims.

The prosecutor also rebutted Burris’ claim.

“(Burris) said ... that Mr. Meier is encouraging her to say she did it,” Assistant District Attorney Luke Bumm said. “But those were her words on a recorded jail call. Not his words.”

Bumm said he found a recorded jail call where Burris told an acquaintance that she killed Bullock.

He paraphrased what she said as, “The purpose of a probable cause hearing would be hearing at which point we decide or receive what evidence there is that I murdered Michael, which I did.”

There is also an eyewitness testimony from someone who was present when Bullock was killed, Bumm said.

At the time Burris was charged, there were separate charges pending against her in the Durham County Domestic Violence Court, where Bullock was the victim, Bumm said.

During the hearing, Burris told Hudson that she did not want to plead guilty to the charge of second-degree murder and wanted to have a “reduced” charge.

“I want to fight this,” Burris said. “I want to fight for my life. I don’t want to do 20 years.”

Meier said the plea was open.

“The judge could have given her as little as 166 months for a minimum 13 years 8 months, or as much as 276 months as a minimum, 23 years,” Meier said in a message to a reporter. “She is the one who kept saying 20 years which was possible but unlikely.”

Burris requested a new court-appointed lawyer, hopefully, a woman, which she would be more comfortable with, she said.

“You don’t have a right to have someone you’re comfortable with or someone who’s a woman,” the judge told her. “You have the right to have an effective lawyer, not necessarily someone you like or one that likes you.”

Burris has been held in Durham County jail since May 12, 2018.

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Jacquelyn Melinek covers metro news for the News & Observer, where she works to update readers about the latest in government, crime, schools and other local news stories. She is a Stembler Scholar, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the School of Media and Journalism and grew up in Westchester, New York.