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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A jury found Caleb Cannon guilty of first-degree murder Monday afternoon in the death of his child’s mother, Nikki Burgess.
The jury began deliberating about 2 p.m. after both the defense and prosecution delivered their closing arguments. The guilty verdict was reached less than two hours later about 3:45 p.m.
Cannon was given an automatic life sentence.
Burgess vanished in May 2014, never to be seen or heard from again. Her body has also yet to be found. Cannon’s former cellmate testified last week that Cannon told him he took her body to a farm and used a machine to grind it up.
During closing arguments, the prosecution focused on how they know Cannon killed the mother of his child, Nikki Burgess.
“You know that the defendant killed Ms. Burgess because of [his son’s testimony of] unusual events that afternoon and night of her death,” the prosecution said.
PHOTOS: The Nikki Burgess case
“First of all, the defendant was late to pick him up, which he testified had never happened before. He was so late that he was the last child left at school, and he had actually fallen asleep in the principal’s office. He told you the defendant took him back to Ms. Burgess’ house and they proceeded to go back into the house and hover for over five hours,” the prosecution continued.
The defense focused on what they saw as weak points in witness testimony that did not prove guilt.
“These witnesses don’t match about key things,” said attorney Jim Todd.
“[Cannon’s son] comes into this court, very difficult for everybody; he hasn’t seen his dad in three years. He says it was unusual to go back to the house. They want you to think it was unheard of, but young Cannon said himself sometimes after school we go to the mall, we go here, we go there, it’s Memorial Day weekend, let the kids play outside,” Todd continued.
The conviction comes one day shy of the three-year anniversary of Burgess’ death. Shannon Million, a friend, told News 2 family and friends of the woman deserved this justice.
“Every year we come around to this anniversary and we hope there will be more progress,” said Million. “And looks like today we finally have a little bit more of that for the family with justice being served.”
But that justice did not come easily. Prosecutors had the enormous task of convicting a killer without his victim’s body being found.
Cindy Chappell, a Nashville attorney who was not involved in the case, said it’s rare and difficult to prosecute a homicide case without a body.
“Number one, you have to prove that a death occurred. Then you also have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that that death occurred by some criminal means,” said Chappell. “So when that is removed from the equation, the state has to rely solely on circumstantial evidence.”