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Lauren Burk disappeared into a cool March night in 2008, failing to arrive for a study session after leaving her boyfriend’s dorm on the Auburn University campus. An hour later, she reappeared naked except for socks along Alabama Highway 147. The pretty brunette was covered in abrasions and gasping, her lungs pierced by a .38-special bullet.

Courtney L. Lockhart, a 26-year-old construction worker, remained silent during his capital murder trial more than two years later. Lockhart’s face didn’t change as a Lee County jury recommended Thursday he spend life in prison without parole for the capital murder. He chewed gum as he had for most of the nine days of his trial.

Maybe it was in his bunk listening to the thud of falling mortar rounds, worried one would come through the ceiling. Maybe it was outside Al Taqaddum, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device killed two soldiers, including the fatherly first sergeant he idolized. Or perhaps it was stateside in the uncomfortable calm of Fort Carson, Colo., where the combat veteran turned to marijuana and heavy drinking to cope.

On Tuesday, March 4, 2008, Lockhart awoke in his silver Chrysler Sebring at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika. He had spent the night in his car. Lockhart was working for a grading company which was doing roadwork along North Dean Road in Auburn. Rain the night before had cancelled work. Lockhart didn’t have enough gas to return home, so he began to drive around Opelika and Auburn.

Lockhart’s wandering drive ended on the Auburn University campus, parking in the lot near Hinton Field behind a cluster of dorms. He backed into a parking space to hide his tag as he watched students go about their days. He returned to EAMC in Opelika after a police cruiser passed through the lot.

After her catnap, Lauren prepared to leave for a study session with high school friend Michael De St. Aubin. The two planned to meet at the Ralph B. Draughon Library at 8:30 p.m. Minutes before she left, McQuade said the young couple argued about one of Lauren’s outfits. The couple would have spats, but always made up soon after, according to McQuade.

“I see Lauren getting in her car,” Lockhart said. “She’s already got her door open. She is doing it so slow. When I saw Lauren, I hung up the phone and grabbed my gun and came up behind her. I told her to get the (expletive) in the car. And I asked her how much money she had.”

Lockhart’s intent at that moment was debated in his murder trial. Lockhart said he was looking for someone to rob and only wanted money, but refused to take the cash and leave. Throughout his interrogation by police, Lockhart said he never planned to have sex with the Marietta, Ga., teen — or shoot her.

Lauren was lying in the roadway as Marcus Ratliff drove his black Ford Explorer toward the intersection of 147 and 280. Lauren stumbled to her feet covered in “road rash” and with a fatal gunshot wound to her back. Adrian and Savannah Benford of Auburn passed a crying, naked young woman waving at them from the western shoulder of 147. Ratliff and the Benfords turned around to check on the strange scene they had passed.

Auburn police officer Jason Jenkins was patrolling near the Village Mall when he heard a call over the radio about a naked woman in the roadway. He arrived at approximately 9:12 p.m. to find Lauren unresponsive. APD Lt. Charles Buckner arrived soon after. Buckner covered Lauren’s chest with a jacket.

As the police, paramedics and strangers tried to save Lauren’s life, Lockhart stopped for gas at the Chevron on North College at the end of Auburn’s main drag. Lockhart bought $14.65 of gas with Lauren’s stolen credit card at 9:17 p.m. He splashed the inside of the car with the fuel before driving back to the Hinton Field parking lot.

At approximately 9:27 p.m., dispatchers receive a call about a car fire on campus, and Auburn fire and police responded. Unable to find the owner among a crowd of curious college students drawn from their dorms by the blaze, Auburn police ran the vehicle’s registration and discovered James Burk, a Cobb County, Ga., resident was the owner.

Near 9:30 p.m., Auburn police called James Burk, Lauren’s father, asking about his missing daughter. The resident from a North Atlanta suburb began calling friends of his youngest daughter, trying to find her. James Burk called Lauren’s mother, Viviane Guerchon, to see if his ex-wife had heard from their daughter, who had lived with Guerchon in high school. Soon after, James Burk began his drive south toward Auburn.

McQuade, whose calls had gone unreturned earlier that evening, called De St. Aubin and other friends. When De St. Aubin told McQuade that Lauren had canceled their study plans in an abrupt conversation, McQuade grabbed a bike from one of the racks in front of his dorm and pedaled for downtown.

James Burk pulled off the interstate at Exit 58, two exits east of the fastest route to campus. He met APD assistant chief Tommy Dawson, who asked James Burk to drive the few miles to EAMC — the place where Lockhart began his day — to see if he could identify the body of a young woman.

State forensic lab investigators and officers from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the state fire marshal’s office sifted the remains of Lauren’s charred car, which was moved to the Auburn Police Division late March 4. Investigators chiseled away at the amalgam of melted plastic and fabric. They recovered scraps of burned clothing, floor mat, Lauren’s melted digital camera and the owner’s manual to the Civic. Under the driver’s seat, an investigator from the fire marshal’s office found a .38 caliber bullet in the debris.

After Williams called in Lockhart’s information, the dispatcher said investigators wanted to speak with Lockhart. Williams asked Lockhart to exit his car. Lockhart stood at the back of his Chrysler, waiting with Williams for the arrival of Phenix City investigators.

The four officers pursued Lockhart north along the snaking county road lined with subdivisions. As he passed a Publix store, Lockhart threw his revolver out the window. The pistol came to rest at the bottom of a steep shoulder near the curb of the parking lot.

After Publix, the neighborhoods spaced out and wooded tracks appeared along the road. About half a mile from Glenwood School, Lockhart abruptly stopped his smoking Chrysler in the roadway and opened his door. Richards veered to the left, trying to pass around the silver sedan. The Phenix City officer’s bike struck Lockhart’s open door, catapulting Richards over his handlebars onto the road.

Lauren’s family would bury their daughter on March 9, the day Auburn police investigators would interrogate Lockhart for a second time. A day later, Lockhart would be charged with capital murder during a kidnapping, capital murder during a robbery and capital murder during an attempted rape in Lee County Circuit Court.