A white-haired ex-convict from Mississippi described by police as a serial killer pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Las Vegas to murder and sex assault charges in the cold case slayings of three women 16 years apart.
Nathaniel Burkett remained in a wheelchair during his brief appearance before a judge who took his plea and set Burkett's next court appearance for Jan. 7. A state court judge is expected at that time to set a trial date.
Burkett, who has used several dates of birth that would put him in his 60s, is accused of killing 22-year-old Barbara Ann Cox in April 1978 and 27-year-old Tina Gayle Mitchell and 32-year-old Althea Maria Williams in separate slayings in 1994. Police say each woman was sexually assaulted, strangled and left dead in a neighborhood near where Burkett lived at the time.
DNA genetic material collected from the bodies of Cox and Mitchell and stored for decades in evidence vaults linked Burkett to the crimes, according to police reports. The cold cases were revisited with funding from a federal grant.
Prosecutors have argued that the slaying of Williams, who lived in Los Angeles, was similar enough to Mitchell's to prove they were committed by the same person.
Burkett's public defender, David Schieck, said outside court Wednesday that he plans to challenge the statute of limitations on a felony sexual assault charge lodged against Burkett in the Mitchell case.
Mitchell's mother, Diane Stamps, 63, said she wants closure to her daughter's slaying after almost 18 years.
"I just want it to be really, really over," she said.
A panel of Clark County district attorney prosecutors is expected to decide in coming weeks whether Burkett will face the death penalty in the three cases.
Burkett has two previous manslaughter convictions, including one in Mississippi that put him in prison from 1983 to 1992 in the death of his mother.
He served from 2004 to 2009 in Nevada prisons on a manslaughter conviction in the September 2002 strangulation of a 41-year-old woman in Las Vegas.
Burkett was living with his sister in Mississippi before his arrest and extradition in August to Las Vegas.