Prosecutor in Burke Case
by Eva Potter
If you happened tune in to the television show “48 Hours: Honor and Dishonor” on Feb. 16, then you already know that the guilty verdict of Sergeant Brent Burke, a military policeman and former guard at Bagram prison, seemed nothing short of miraculous. Four previous trials had failed to convict him of murdering his wife and her mother in Kentucky on Sept. 11, 2007.
After the fourth trial ended in a hung jury, Burke was released back to the military. Because the crimes were committed while Burke was on active duty, the Army took up the case and began their own investigation. The trial was headed by prosecuting attorney Lt. Col. Matt Calarco, who grew up in Ellicottville and graduated from ECS in 1991.
With modesty, Lt. Col. Calarco’s brother, local resident Carl Calarco, said he feels Matt is “a good representative of our community and our town and what our school has produced. I’d like people around here to know there are a lot of people who have done a lot of good things once they left the Ellicottville area and have been very successful.”
Carl, who still lives in Ellicottville, said the show was taped over a year ago and doesn’t know why this particular case was chosen to air on “48 Hours,” but he said he’s happy and proud that his brother could represent his hometown and country with honor.
As the story of Burke’s crimes unfolded on the show, members of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) serving as military prosecutors during the court-martial were interviewed, including Lt. Col. Calarco, although he spoke very little.
Lt. Col. Calarco’s team had their work cut out for them as they sifted through four years of previous trials in order to prove Sgt. Burke murdered his wife and her mother.
While interviewed by “48 Hours” correspondent Richard Schlesinger, Lt. Col. Calarco said the toughest part of a case like this was that it was four years old, “and it was mostly circumstantial evidence and when you put all that together it certainly makes for a difficult case.”
Because military verdicts do not have to be unanimous, the jury was able to reach a guilty verdict for both murders in less than 10 days. Burke is now serving life in prison without parole.
In his years as a JAG prosecutor, Lt. Col. Calarco has been involved in numerous high-profile cases.
It took many years to attain his rank and his education at ECS, no doubt, served as a solid foundation.
“Matt was very active in the school and the community, always, as was my family,” said Carl. “He played sports year round—football, basketball, golf. He had a lot of jobs here and there, and was always working in the summer when he could. He worked for the youth program for a couple summers at the park and spent a lot of time at Holiday Valley skiing and swimming. He was just very involved, including the Drama Club, National Honor Society, band and chorus.”
Upon graduation from ECS, Lt. Col. Calarco attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“Matt was selected for Big 30 football team, but didn’t end up playing because he had to leave for the academy weeks after graduation and has been in the Army ever since,” said Carl.
Upon graduation from West Point, he had to serve five years as payback to the military. Halfway through this period, he was offered the opportunity to go to law school at the University of Buffalo through the Army.
Carl said, “It was something Matt had wanted to do anyway, so he pursued his law degree, but he had to give back two years of service for every year of law school, which was six years. At that point, he had already spent 11 years in the military and his path had become a career.”
Since graduating from law school, Lt. Col. Calarco has served as a JAG attorney for the Army. As he continued moving up through the ranks, he became more involved with difficult cases like Burke’s, and in April 2012, he was promoted to his current rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Although he does not know the exact nature of his work there, his brother said Lt. Col. Calarco, now age 39, is currently in Afghanistan. He will be returning stateside in June when he will be stationed in Charlottesville, Va., and will be Director of the Criminal Law Division of the Army’s JAG school at the University of Virginia.
By Carl’s estimate, his brother has about two years before he can retire, at which time he can opt to stay in the military or retire and begin a new chapter in his life with his wife and kids.