Man, 32, shot and killed on Marena Street in Elliott

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Michael Burkes moved to Elliott because he wanted to try to escape the kind of violence that killed him Thursday morning, his sister said.

Pittsburgh police found Burkes, 32, shot to death on the front porch of his Marena Street home shortly before 7 a.m. His 1-year-old son was sitting unharmed in a car parked about 30 feet away.

"We're assuming he forgot something, had to get something," and then the shots were fired, Major Crimes Lt. Daniel Herrmann said.

Burkes was on his way to work as a roofer that morning and would have been preparing to take his son to a baby sitter, said his older sister, Charlotte Burkes.

Her mother tried to reach him by phone that morning. When he didn't answer, she called the baby sitter and learned the pair never arrived. Concerned, she went to the house and arrived to find officers outside.

That is how the family learned that Burkes, the youngest of four siblings, had died, his sister said.

Both Charlotte Burkes and police struggled Thursday to find a motive for the shooting.

The Allegheny County medical examiner's office said Burkes had been shot in the head and trunk and ruled his death a homicide. The car the child was sitting in was not hit by bullets, police said.

Charlotte Burkes said her brother "did have a past," but he had been focusing in the last year on improving his life.

He grew up in Beltzhoover, but he and his fiancee, Karen Hicks, bought a house together in Elliott last year. They were preparing for their son's second birthday in August, the same month they expected to get married, his sister said.

"The baby settled him down a lot," Charlotte Burkes said. "He was just trying to stay away from the streets. He was done with that."

Court records show that Burkes had been arrested numerous times -- although in many cases he was acquitted or prosecutors dropped the case.

Burkes was sentenced in 1998 to 11/2 to 3 years in prison after he was convicted in Allegheny County of carrying a firearm without a license, state records show.

He twice was charged with, and then acquitted of, homicides in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh police charged Burkes in 2003 with shooting Kenneth Edmonds, 22, of McDonald, after a dispute involving a cell phone bill. As the case progressed, witnesses' statements about whether they saw Burkes with a gun changed.

In 2007, Pittsburgh police charged Burkes with killing Sabrina Berry, 21, who was found shot to death in the parking lot of an athletic field in the South Side Slopes. A woman, Sherry Denson, 41, also was charged in Berry's death and pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

The William F. Conroy Funeral Home in Sheraden will be coordinating services; details had not been finalized Thursday.

Police have asked anyone with information about Burkes' death to call 911 or homicide detectives at 412-323-7161.

Liz Navratil:, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published April 24, 2014 8:50 AM


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