Opening arguments begin in trial for man accused of murdering daughter in Union County

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — The trial for a Union County father accused of murdering his daughter began this week. The state is pursuing the death penalty against him.

Channel 9 has followed the tragedy since 2019.

Zaria Burgess was just 15 when she died, and authorities haven’t released a motive in the murder yet.

Jury selection for the trial began May 16, and opening arguments started Thursday.

Joshua Burgess faces a list of charges in the case, including first-degree murder as well as statutory rape and kidnapping. He’s been in the Union County jail since Zaria Burgess’s death.

Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis was in the courtroom as jury selection began and potential jurors were warned that the details of the case would be extremely difficult to hear.

Investigators say Zaria Burgess was visiting her dad for the weekend at his Wesley Chapel home. They said Joshua Burgess strangled his daughter, then slit her throat inside the house.

Deputies said he later walked to the sheriff’s office, turned himself in, and told them where to find her body.

The judge also warned the trial could be very long, lasting as much as five weeks.

Last month, his defense attorneys asked for his admission to be scrubbed from the record, claiming a right to a fair trial.

The state, in addition to pursuing the death penalty, also asked that Burgess be chained during the trial on behalf of the Union County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy expressed safety concerns over the nature of the crime, fearing Burgess could act out. The judge said he will rule at a later date.

Zaria Burgess was a rising sophomore at Monroe High School. She was a member of the marching band and dance team. At the time, her family told Channel 9 she was a kind girl who loved her family. She was a cheerleader whose friends remembered her as “bubbly and bright.” She was someone who kept her teammates laughing.

More details are expected to come to light once the trial begins.

(WATCH BELOW: Man accused of child abuse now charged with murder after adopted newborn son dies)