Editor’s note: Updated to include sentencing information.
It has been more than 18 years since 19-year-old Courtney Coco was found murdered inside an abandoned building near Winnie, Texas – about 200 miles away from her Alexandria, Louisiana home – on October 4, 2004.
An autopsy conducted the next day could not determine Courtney’s cause of death due to the badly decomposed state of her body, but it was ruled a homicide and an investigation was launched.
Years passed, and Courtney’s case went cold. In 2019, podcast host Woody Overton decided to look into Courtney’s case. He shared his findings on his podcast “Real Life Real Crime” with the release of an 18-episode investigative podcast “Who Murdered Courtney Coco?” In 2020, Overton told Dateline that he received an overwhelming response. “After countless interviews, a fresh look at the case and months of dedication, I believe we know who killed Courtney Coco,” he said.
Woody turned his findings over to the Alexandria Police Department in 2019. Detective Tanner Dryden, the lead investigator working on Courtney’s case, would not comment on Overton’s findings when he spoke with Dateline in 2020, due to the case being an active investigation. He did say he was "working diligently to keep this investigation moving forward."
Dateline featured Courtney’s case in our Cold Case Spotlight series in 2020. We spoke with Courtney’s mother, Stephanie Belgard, who said, “We will fight until the end for justice for Courtney, and we want whoever did this to be held responsible.”
She told Dateline that she made a promise to Courtney. “I kneeled at her grave and made a promise to get justice,” Stephanie said. “And I’m keeping that promise. I’ll get justice and finally she’ll be at peace.”
And Stephanie did keep that promise to her daughter.
In 2021, the Alexandria Police announced that David Anthony Burns was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. At the time, it was unclear what exactly led police to arrest Burns. Burns has pleaded not guilty.
Burns’s trial began in October of 2022, and local NBC affiliate KALB did extensive coverage of the trial.
They reported that on the second day of the trial, Courtney’s older sister, Lace Evans – who was engaged to Burns for six years -- testified that she and Burns got into an argument early Saturday morning, October 2, 2004, and that after he left “she never saw him all weekend after that.” Courtney’s body was found on Monday, October 4.
Lace told the jury that she suspected Burns and Courtney were having an affair, but when she confronted them, “they denied it.”
According to KALB, the State presented witnesses for “nearly three full days before resting” on Monday. The defense only called one witness before resting.
On October 31, a jury in Rapides Parish found Burns guilty of second-degree murder. “The jury deliberated for about an hour and a half before reaching its unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict,” KALB reported.
District Attorney Phillip Terrell told KALB that it was “an extremely difficult case” but they investigated it “the right way.”
Defense attorney Christopher LaCour said he was surprised by the verdict and believes “this was a sympathy verdict.”
Courtney’s mother, Stephanie, expressed her gratitude to everyone who helped bring justice for her daughter. She told KALB, “I’m just so happy and sad. I did it all for her.”
According to NBC affiliate KALB, Burns was in court for sentencing on Monday, November 28, 2022, where his “attorney argued two motions ahead of it - one for judgement of acquittal, the other for a new trial.” Both of the motions were denied. The next day, David Burns was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.