After three hours of deliberation, a jury handed down the death sentence to a North Carolina dad for the brutal slaying of his teen daughter in 2019.
Following a three-week trial, Joshua Lee Burgess, 35, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of 15-year-old Zaria Burgess.
According to a statement from the Union County District Attorney’s Office, the girl’s father slit her throat “after psychologically and sexually torturing her for 22 hours” at his Monroe, N.C., home on Aug. 18, 2019.
Burgess was also convicted of one count of statutory rape, three counts of statutory sex offense, and one count of first degree sexual exploitation of a minor, according to the statement.
He received a minimum of nearly 76 years in prison for those offenses in addition to the death sentence.
“This was truly an especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel killing of an innocent child. This case was emotionally taxing for everyone involved. We continue to grieve with and pray for Zaria’s mother,” the Union County District Attorney’s Office said.
Investigators say Zaria was murdered during a weekend visit to her father’s home. Following her death, Burgess walked into the Union County Sheriff’s Office (USCO) and confessed to killing her, telling deputies the girl’s body was still at his house, PEOPLE previously reported.
According to WSOC-TV, Burgess strangled his daughter before slitting her throat.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Sheriff Eddie Cathey called Burgess “the essence of evil.”
Burgess “stole Zaria from her friends, family and local community,” his statement read. “While we know Zaria is forever gone to us, we hope that today’s verdict helps to bring some closure to Zaria’s family and friends, and we will continue to keep them in our prayers each day.”
While Burgess identified several motives throughout a confession provided to UCSO detectives, they say the primary motives for the killing appeared to be lust and control.
Zaria’s cousin Dytaysha Wadsworth said at the time of her death, “She was so young, and nobody deserves to leave this world like that. Especially by someone they thought was gonna protect them and be there for them,” WSOC reports.
It wasn’t immediately clear who represented Burgess in court or whether he plans to appeal the death sentence.