A Mississippi mystery: Who killed Katherine Sinclair?

When she was 3 years old, Katherine Sinclair went fishing with her mother. The two had plans to spend the day on the water in an aluminum boat borrowed from a friend.

Those plans went awry when they got to the middle of the lake and Sinclair's mother, Madeline Herrington, threw the anchor — and the rope holding it — overboard. The rope, although tightly attached to the anchor, wasn't attached to the boat.

Herrington jumped in after it and, in one of those stories that becomes family folklore, ended up swimming back to the bank, pulling the boat behind her the entire way with her toddler daughter sitting in the middle of the boat for the ride back. "Just sit tight, baby," Herrington told her.

"That little girl was the love of my life," Herrington said Thursday.

On the night of June 1, Herrington's baby, now 23, sat in a car in her boyfriend's garage, clinging to life with a bullet hole in her head. She was wearing only a t-shirt.

When EMTs arrived, they pulled Sinclair from the front seat of her Honda Accord onto the garage's concrete floor and worked to keep the young woman alive.

Despite their efforts, she died the next day.

Sinclair, who was predominately left handed, had been shot in the right side of the head, the bullet shattering the rear window on the driver's side.

Her boyfriend, Greg Burroughs, said Sinclair shot herself.

Prosecutors are waiting for test results before making that determination.

"I can’t even call it a murder at this point. It’s a death investigation, but I’m smart enough to know what I’m looking at," said Jones County District Attorney Tony Buckley. "I know what the issue is. It’s a suspicious death investigation."

Earlier in the evening, Sinclair and Burroughs had gone out to dinner in Laurel. The couple returned to Burroughs' home in the affluent Windermere neighborhood just outside the Laurel city limits.

According to Buckley, the shooting happened between 8:40 and 8:58 p.m.

Before calling 911, Burroughs called Municipal Court Judge Kyle Robertson, a family friend and Sinclair's uncle. Robertson told Burroughs to hang up and call 911.

When reached Friday afternoon, Robertson confirmed Burroughs called him the night of the shooting but declined to comment further.

After calling 911, Burroughs met EMTs at the end of his driveway, flagging them down. Officers with the Laurel Police Department arrived on scene, their body cameras turned on. Sinclair was transported to the hospital and her car towed for evidence.

Burroughs, 38, was taken in for questioning as a person of interest.

Police are allowed to hold someone for questioning without pressing charges for 48 hours. Since the 48-hour window passed over the weekend, prosecutors had a decision to make Monday morning. The autopsy had not yet been conducted. Burroughs hadn't confessed to anything. Buckley made the call to let him go.  

When reached Thursday, Burroughs would not comment, directing all questions to his attorney.

"He's not admitted (to shooting her). The gun's not in his hand; it's in her hand," Buckley said. "I’m familiar with what the issues are in 'x' column; I'm familiar with what the issues are in the 'y' column. I have an ethical obligation to look at both sides and wait on test results."

After Burroughs was taken in for questioning, his family cleaned the garage. Police on the scene reportedly gave them permission.

"They were allowed to clean up," said Burroughs' attorney, Brad Thompson. "There is no dispute on that. Not the house, but they were allowed to clean up (the garage.)"

Laurel Police Chief Tyrone Stewart could not be reached for comment.

Buckley would not comment about the scene, saying only that "the focus of the investigation is the interior of the Honda."

Over the course of the investigation, Buckley said there has been public pressure to make an arrest. He pushed back on that, however, saying he would not issue an arrest warrant for anyone until the investigation was complete.

"A surgeon wouldn’t perform surgery the next day unless they’ve got the result of the scans and blood work, and we can’t issue an arrest warrant (without all the facts)," he said. "That information is being gathered, and I would ask people to respect the investigation and give us time to perform it thoroughly.

"... Katherine Sinclair deserves a full and complete investigation, absolutely she does."

Buckley refers to Burroughs as a "person of interest."

"If she didn’t commit suicide, then obviously he’s a suspect, yeah, but that’s the issue in the case," he said. "Again, when you don’t have an admission, and you have a single gunshot wound to the head and — I can’t give other information out — it comes down to science. I don’t have a neutral eyewitness, and I don’t have it on film."

What Buckley will have is a myriad test results.

Within the next two months, Buckley said he will provide a grand jury with a copy of the autopsy, a toxicology report, a pathology report, police body camera footage, a copy and transcript of the 911 call, video of Burroughs' interview at the police station and the results of gunshot residue tests.

According to an incident report from the night of the shooting, a Ruger LCP II was logged into evidence.

The National Rifle Association describes that make of handgun as a "modern pocket pistol" that is "slim, trim and snag-free" with a "trigger pull of around 6 lbs."

The gun was a gift to Sinclair from her father on May 19, her 23rd birthday. Despite being predominately left handed, Sinclair also could shoot with her right hand, Herrington said.

"She always carried a gun with her at all times. It was always in her console," she said.

Sinclair was described as a "tomboy" who grew up hunting and fishing. She lived in the Lake Eddins community in Pachuta so she could be close to the water.

"I taught that child how to fish as soon as I could get her in the boat," Herrington said. "She loved to fish. That was her whole, entire world."

In addition to her love of the outdoors, Sinclair was enrolled in nursing school at Meridian Community College. She planned to live a life healing others and was kept on life support so her organs could be donated. Through her donation, Herrington knows of "at least five other people that she saved."

"That's the only beauty I can find in this," she said. "Her life goes on and will continue to go on."

Herrington is adamant that her daughter did not commit suicide.

"They told me she committed suicide, and I said, 'No, she didn’t.' That was my first reaction. 'No, she did not.' She would have never committed suicide," she said.

Herrington said police told her Sinclair was "only wearing a t-shirt" when she was pulled from the car. "She was running for her life," Herrington said.

Herrington said she did not know her daughter was dating Burroughs but she had been told they were dating for approximately eight months. Sinclair's father, Herrington's ex-husband, met Burroughs the weekend before her death, she said.

Thompson said he did not want to comment on the details of the case "because of the respect that Greg has for her and her family,"

As questions remain unanswered, Herrington said she just wants to know what happened the night of her daughter's death.

"I want my child’s life, and I want her legacy to go on," she said. "Katherine was everybody’s sweetheart. She was like the girl next door."

Contact Sarah Fowler at sfowler@gannett.com or (601) 961-7303. Follow Sarah on Twitter and Facebook.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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