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Delaware man guilty of killing Iraq war veteran [The Philadelphia Inquirer]
[March 26, 2011]

Delaware man guilty of killing Iraq war veteran [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

(Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 26--There was never a question of who killed James Stropas, a decorated Army sergeant and Iraq war veteran.

Sean Burton did it.

He stabbed Stropas more than 70 times in the parking lot of a Delaware County shopping center with an 8-inch butcher knife.

The question was: Did the jury believe it was self-defense or premeditated murder? The answer: Murder, first degree.

Burton, 42, of Newark, Del., showed no emotion as the jury of nine women and three men returned with their decision after deliberating for 31/2 hours. Burton faces a mandatory life sentence without parole.

"It doesn't change the outcome," said Peter Stropas, 37, of Chambersburg, Pa., the victim's older brother. "At least the person responsible is no longer free." Burton killed Stropas, 32, of Norristown, in June as the victim left a Dunkin' Donuts shop in Springfield Township, Delaware County.

Stropas had been dating Burton's estranged wife, Theresa Murphy. He had just bought breakfast and was returning to her home when he was attacked.

In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Stephanie L. Wills told the jury the case was about jealousy, control, and planning.

"This is a classic jealous husband case," Wills said. She said Stropas did not know that Murphy had told Burton they would get back together. Burton, she said, planned to kidnap Stropas, kill him, and dismember his body.

In the days leading up to the murder, Burton attached a GPS device to Stropas' car to secretly stalk him. He combed the Internet late at night searching for drugs powerful enough to kill a deer. In his van were a shovel, hatchet, duct tape, plastic ties, gasoline, and black plastic gloves. Burton took photos with his iPhone of the victim's Jeep Cherokee parked outside Murphy's home.

"We knew we had a lot of evidence," Wills said after the verdict was announced.

Mark Much, Burton's defense attorney, told the jury his client was trying to prove that Stropas lived with Murphy so he would not have to pay alimony in the event of a divorce.

In his closing argument, Much told the jury that nobody planning a murder would do it in front of a Dunkin' Donuts shop.

"Who goes to doughnut shops? Cops," Much said.

Stropas suffered wounds to his back, spleen, a lung, and arteries in his neck. As he lay dying face-down on the floor of the passenger side of his Jeep, Burton took the wheel, sat on Stropas' legs, and drove off.

Burton said he was headed to a hospital to get help for Stropas. Instead, he ended up in nearby Smedley Park, less than a mile from the murder scene, where police took him into custody.

"James Stropas survived two tours in Iraq," Wills said in her closing argument, "to be brutally slain by the defendant in Springfield Township." Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or

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