Covington County District Attorney’s Office presents evidence in Opp murder case during preliminary hearing

Published 1:45 pm Friday, March 1, 2024

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A preliminary hearing was held this week where evidence was presented against a Mobile man accused in an Opp murder in March 2023.

Joseph Wayne Christopher

District Attorney Walt Merrell presented evidence in District Court to substantiate the murder charge against 41-year-old Joseph Wayne Christopher.

“A preliminary hearing is a type of check and balance within the judicial system. During the hearing, the State is required to put forth evidence to demonstrate probable cause that the defendant committed the crime he is accused of,” Merrell said. “If we fail to meet that burden, the judge can dismiss the case. However, where we provide enough evidence — as in this case — the judge forwards the case on to the grand jury.”

At the hearing, Opp Police Department Investigator Kevin Wise testified that on March 3, 2023, Joseph Christopher left Clarksville, Tennessee and traveled to Opp where he confronted the victim, Kelvin Burks. According to Wise, witnesses reported that Christopher accused his girlfriend of having an affair with Burks. Merrell said Christopher left Tennessee armed with a “gun and a box of bullets” to confront Burks about the allegation.

Wise also said that witnesses saw Burks and Christopher together at Burks’ residence on Hwy. 331 north of Opp on the evening of March 3 and that Christopher was the last person seen with Burks. Wise further testified that, according to witnesses, Burks had reported to them that Christopher was upset because “he [was] having woman problems.”

Midday on March 4, 2023, a neighbor and friend found Burks unresponsive in his kitchen. According to Wise, the autopsy showed that Burks died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. A spent shell casing from a 40-caliber handgun was found in the kitchen near Burks’ body.

Wise testified that a subsequent search of Christopher’s room at his father’s apartment in Mobile led to the discovery of unfired bullets of the same make and caliber as the spent shell casing recovered from the murder scene. Wise also testified that witnesses placed Christopher’s car at Burks’ residence until sometime after 3 a.m. that morning.

According to Merrell, “A game warden found Christopher’s car stuck in a ditch a few miles across the Crenshaw County line north of Opp in the morning hours of March 4. Later that day, he was found walking down the road.”

Merrell added that there are multiple witnesses who will testify to motive and intent, but stated, “I’m not going to discuss those things publicly until trial.”

“Kelvin Burks seemed to be a good man just trying to help people in need,” Merrell said. “He was a bi-vocational pastor who was known to open his church and his home to those who were weak and weary. It’s a tragedy of the worst sort.”

Merrell commended Wise and the Opp Police Department for their diligence and good work.

“Cases like this sometimes go unsolved because of the defendant’s lack of connections to the community. The Opp Police Department left no stone unturned. They proved the old adage to be true that hard work pays off.”

Christopher is being held without bond pursuant to Aniah’s Law. His case will be reviewed by the grand jury during the June 2024 session.