Family calls for tougher convictions in Chatham County

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:28 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As the Savannah city council looks at hiring a federal prosecutor to focus solely on the city’s gun crimes, one family is still fighting for justice. This comes four years after their son was shot and killed on Savannah State’s campus in 2018.

Kaleel Clarke’s parents, Madiha Clarke and Kenneth Frazier, are still mourning the loss of their son. They’re also calling for the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office to reopen the investigation into his death.

“Leniency seems to be what she’s focusing on,” Clarke said.

Frazier said gun violence is making Savannah a less desirable place to live in or visit.

“This town right now, they call it the Hostess City. I call it the homicide city,” he added.

In 2018, authorities say then-19-year-old Phillip Burke shot and killed 20-year-old Kaleel Clarke after a reported fight between the two on Savannah State’s campus. Three years later, the Chatham County DA’s office found Burke had acted in self-defense. He was given a plea deal and sentenced to one year in prison followed by probation.

This transcript from that plea hearing shows Burke could have faced as much as 30 years in prison.

WTOC also found while he was awaiting that hearing, Savannah Police arrested Burke for unlawfully carrying a firearm in 2019. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison for that. He’s set to get out Sept. 10, credited for serving both sentences.

Clarke’s mother says Burke’s release sends the wrong message.

“Others in the community see that, ‘I guess you don’t have to worry about getting a lot of time, because you just get out on bail.’ Then other people get the idea, and it just goes into circles,” Clarke said.

The pair feels their son’s death was not properly investigated, and that District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones gave Burke too light of a sentence. Mediha still protests in front of the DA’s office regularly.

“Every time I go stand in front of that courthouse with my signs, I’m going out there to get the attention of the courts that, this does not end,” she said.

At Mayor Van Johnson’s news conference Tuesday, the Clarke’s told a crowd on-hand they think it’s time Savannah got tougher on gun crimes. It’s something they’ve said previously.

“Gunfire, gunfire, gunfire. That’s all happening right now. It’s because you’re letting everybody back out on the streets that you should be prosecuting,” Frazier said.

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones provided WTOC with a statement after the above story aired:

“I sympathize with the Clarke family for the loss of their son and have met with them personally and contacted them by phone as recent as last week and spoke to them at least twice in person today. However, criminal convictions are based on evidence. Even though there was not enough evidence to prove murder, the defendant plead guilty to a firearms charge and is currently serving a 10 year sentence. If and when additional evidence is presented, my office will consider it. For now, that case is closed.”

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