LaGRANGE — The Troup County man arrested earlier this year for killing five people in a Woodstream Trail home pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Troup County Superior Court today.
Thomas J. Lee will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Jan. 28 deaths of his wife, Christie Lee, 39; her daughter, Bailey Burtron, 16; Christie Lee’s parents, William and Shelia Burtron, 69 and 68, respectively; and family friend Iionna Green, 18.
Judge John Simpson accepted Lee’s plea of guilty but mentally ill after District Attorney Pete Skandalakis of the Coweta Judicial Circuit negotiated with Lee’s attorney, Jerry Word of the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office.
The victims were found in a home owned by William Burtron at 113 Woodstream Trail in southern Troup County on the evening of Jan. 31. Deputies were called to the home after William Burtron’s employer reported him missing. Authorities immediately noticed a strong odor coming from the house and forced entry through a back door, according to Troup County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Caldwell.
All of the victims but Bailey Burtron were found shot to death in the home. The sight to a .22 caliber revolver handgun were also found in the house and investigators believe it broke off in a struggle, Caldwell said. Investigators later learned that Thomas Lee had purchased the gun at a local store 10 days before the murders took place.
Caldwell told the court that William and Shelia Burtron had grown increasingly unhappy with Thomas Lee in the previous months; he was unable to hold a steady job and shrugged responsibilities around the house, where he, his wife Christie and his step-daughter Bailey were staying after falling on difficult financial times.
Thomas Lee allegedly later told investigators that he’d purchased the gun to kill himself, and was in the act when Bailey Burtron walked in on the suicide attempt. He told investigators he blacked out and doesn’t remember what happened next. Ultimately, investigators believe he strangled Bailey to death before turning the gun on the rest of the family.
After killing his family, Thomas Lee fled to Alabama and later to Mississippi where he was eventually captured and brought back to Troup County for trial.
Following today’s plea, Lee was immediately taken to Jackson State Prison in Middle Georgia to begin his sentence, Skandalakis said.
Read LaGrange Daily News in print on Thursday for a full account of the guilty plea, including statements by the victims’ families.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter for LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.