Love triangle surfaces in slaying of pastor’s wife
Dad, son admit links to woman also held in case, records show
The son of a Houston minister told Harris County sheriff’s detectives he was paid to kill his father’s wife last month, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Pastor Tracy Bernard “T.B.” Burleson, 44, and his son, William Darnnell Fuller, 20 — both jailed without bail on charges of murder — also were having romantic relationships with the same woman, who is accused of trying to burn the murder weapon, according to detectives and court documents.
Both men are charged in the May 18 shooting death of Pauletta Ross Burleson, 56, at the family’s home in north central Harris County. The men’s romantic inter-
est, Tyonne Marie Palmer-Pollard, 31, is charged with tampering with evidence.
Detectives and court records suggest the Burleson family was rife with conflict. Fuller told detectives that he frequently fought with his stepmother, according to Sgt. Wayne Kuhlman of the Sheriff’s Office Homicide Division. And court records show the slain woman was prosecuted twice on child abuse charges, receiving deferred adjudication both times, while her husband was cleared of any wrongdoing in those cases.
Infidelities no secret
Pauletta Burleson knew of her husband’s infidelities and had discussed them with others, Kuhlman said. And the pastor, who heads First New Mount Calvary Baptist Church in the Fifth Ward, told sheriff’s detectives that Palmer-Pollard was not the only woman with whom he’d had an affair, the sergeant said.
During a magistrate hearing Wednesday, Harris County prosecutor Justin Wood said Fuller, a Texas Southern University pre-nursing student, told investigators he shot his stepmother after being paid by his father to commit the crime. Wood did not say how much the son was allegedly paid.
Sheriff’s detectives broke the case after a confidential informant told them Fuller admitted he had shot his stepmother, according to an affidavit released Wednesday.
Pauletta Burleson — known to her family and friends as “Paulette” — had argued with her husband in the driveway of their home in the 11800 block of Green Loch near North Lake Houston Parkway on the night of her death, one neighbor told detectives, court records show.
During the argument, the neighbor heard a man say, “You are always trying to control me,” according to an affidavit.
Shot about 10:15 p.m.
Minutes later, Pauletta Burleson was shot from behind while sitting in a chair in her garage. The single shot pierced her head and neck, an autopsy revealed. Another neighbor heard the gunshot around 10:15 p.m.
Two minutes later, the victim’s son, John Ross, received a phone call from the pastor, telling Ross that his mother had been shot, an affidavit shows.
An hour later, deputies were called to the family’s home, where the pastor reported finding his wife dead in their driveway. Tracy Burleson told detectives he had gone to a store to buy chips and candy. But detectives found no such items in the pastor’s car and saw what appeared to be blood on the vehicle’s ignition key.
The pastor gave inconsistent stories to detectives, first telling them he had thrown out the chips and candy on his way home from the store, then claiming the store wasn’t open after officers discovered that the establishment closed at 10 p.m. that night.
Detectives led to gun
After the shooting, court records show, Fuller walked across a wooded area to another street, where he called Palmer-Pollard, who came and picked him up.
Fuller said she took him somewhere to clean up, then drove him to an unidentified location where they both burned the gun used to kill his stepmother, an affidavit shows. Fuller later led detectives to the gun, Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman confirmed there was a life insurance policy on Pauletta Burleson totaling about $60,000, but said detectives have not established a specific motive for the crime.
Fuller has given detectives conflicting stories, while his father and Palmer-Pollard have refused to cooperate with authorities, said sheriff’s Sgt. Curtis Brown.
Fuller had long been romantically interested in Palmer-Pollard, but his father became involved with her first, Kuhlman said. Fuller later also became romantically involved with her, and Palmer-Pollard carried on both relationships at the same time, Kuhlman said.
A week before Pauletta Burleson was shot to death, the couple’s church caught fire and was destroyed. Houston Fire Department arson investigators have not yet discovered the cause of that fire or determined if it was deliberately set.
The Burlesons, who had been married since July 1995, had two adopted sons, now 16 and 17, whom they took into their home when the boys were very young.
Burleson ran into trouble with the law when she was charged in 1997 with injury to a child causing reckless bodily injury. No details were available for that case, but she received deferred adjudication and was placed on probation for six years.
In 2005, Burleson and her pastor husband were both arrested, each on two charges for injury to a child under 15. Both were accused of using an extension cord and wooden board to beat their sons, then 11 and 12. A Harris County grand jury declined to indict the couple in that case.
In 2006, the Burlesons were again arrested for injury to a child under 15. The charges against Tracy Burleson were dismissed, while his wife again received deferred adjudication and three years probation for the case, in which she was accused of striking her then 12-year-old son with an extension cord and a board.
TRACY B. BURLESON