Alleged "hitman" pleads to reduced charge

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A Chauncey man alleged to have been a hitman and charged with felonious assault has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of a misdemeanor offense and could avoid jail time.

Joe Burch, 50, was charged in June with felonious assault, a felony of the second degree that carried with it a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted. The charge was levied after Burch allegedly threatened to kill his neighbor Charles Gilkey — who claimed Burch had said he had been hired to kill him.

Tuesday, Burch appeared in Athens County Common Pleas Court and changed his plea to guilty on the reduced charge of aggravated menacing, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, both suspended on the condition that Burch remain a law abiding citizen for two years, have no contact with Gilkey and Plum Street in Chauncey, possess no firearms and not possess or consume drugs unless otherwise prescribed.

Burch submitted to a drug/alcohol assessment by Health Recovery Services and is not allowed to enter establishments that serve alcohol by the drink and can only consume alcohol at a private residence.

Deputies with the Athens County Sheriff's Office responded to Gilkey's residence at around 3:30 a.m. on June 23 after receiving a report of a possible shooting. According to the case report, Gilkey told deputies Burch had pointed a rifle at him and said he was there because he was hired to kill him. A physical altercation would ensue and the firearm discharged. The report stated that both Burch and Gilkey suffered injuries but neither required medical attention.

Both parties were allegedly intoxicated during the incident.

Burch later spoke to The Messenger in an exclusive interview claiming the report was "fabricated and fiction" and also claiming that he would see the case through to a jury, vowing to not take a plea deal.

Burch told The Messenger that he and Gilkey had been drinking and discussed a deal where Burch would sell Gilkey a motorcycle. A dispute then took place over a matter of $3,000. Burch alleged that Gilkey produced the firearm and was the person who fired the gun. Burch said he never touched the gun other than to kick it away after it was on the ground during the altercation.

Burch denied allegations of being a gun for hire.

"If I was being a hitman ... I need a new profession because I'm terrible at it," he previous told The Messenger. "I'm no angel ... but this did not happen the way they are saying it happened."