By Jay Meisel
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - As he traveled to the funeral for a murdered former Indian River County education superintendent, a former school board member learned a suspect was being questioned, Gary Lindsey recalled last week.
But it would be another two decades before the suspect, Kareem Lane, was tried on a charge that he murdered James Burns, the former superintendent.
The trial of Mr. Lane, who is accused of fatally stabbing Mr. Burns in Mr. Burns' residence on October 19, 1992, began last week in a Columbus, Ga., courtroom, according to the Ledger-Enquirer, the newspaper based in that city.
The newspaper reported that in 1992, authorities lacked evidence to charge Mr. Lane with the murder, but a more recent examination of DNA evidence led to the charge.
Last week, Stella Burns Butler, the remarried widow of Mr. Burns, testified she was in bed with her former husband at the time of the stabbing, but did not see the attacker, the newspaper reported.
Mr. Burns served as superintendent of schools in Indian River County from 1979 to 1989.
Mr. Lindsey, who was chairman of the Indian River County School Board in 1980 and 1981 and then again in 1987 and 1988, said after the murder, an airplane was chartered and 12 to 13 people from Indian River County flew to Columbus to attend the funeral.
A problem occurred with the transportation from the airport to the funeral and Mr. Lindsey and others got a ride with police, he recalled.
During that trip, officers got word a suspect was arrested, he said.
Mr. Lindsey and others who knew Mr. Burns recalled he was hired with a mission to improve education in Indian River County.
"We didn't feel like we were performing at our best level and we wanted a change in direction," recalled Joe Idlette, who served as vice chairman of the school board in 1980 and 1981.
Mr. Idlette said Mr. Burns was up to the task and did an "excellent job."
Mr. Burns "turned our district around and carried us to a higher level," Mr. Idlette said. He helped modernize the district, Mr. Lindsey said, adding Mr. Burns made good use of the people working for him.
"He did a really good job of getting the right people in the right place," Mr. Lindsey said.
Russell Petersen, an attorney for the school district during part of Mr. Burns' tenure, called Mr. Burns "innovative."
"I thought he was very effective," Mr. Petersen said.
But as the years passed, some of Mr. Burns' actions or comments were unpopular with some people and that led to him to decide to leave in 1989, Mr. Lindsey said.
He added, though, that is often the case with superintendents, who typically leave before serving for 10 years.
Mr. Burns then became superintendent of schools in Pulaski County, Va., for a year before getting the job in Georgia.
Mr. Idlette said he provided a good reference for Mr. Burns.
"I had a feeling I had some part to play in him getting that position," Mr. Idlette said.