Commentary: Why was Gaffney killer free?

The Gaffney serial killer might be dead, but questions remain as to why he went on his killing spree and why, with a lengthy criminal record, he was not in jail.

Police are convinced that Patrick Tracy Burris, who was killed in a shootout near Gastonia, N.C., is the man who shot five people to death in Cherokee County in recent weeks. Investigators say bullets in the gun found on Burris after he was killed matched those used to kill residents in and around Gaffney.

A motive for the killing spree remains a mystery. Perhaps two other people who were with Burris at the site of the shootout can provide some answers.

Since his first murder on June 27, Burris' random serial killings terrorized the residents of Gaffney and Cherokee County. With no apparent connection among the victims, anyone might have been next on the list.

Residents and law enforcement officials are relieved that Burris is dead. But many now are questioning why he was set free. Burris was paroled in April from a medium security prison after serving just less than 8 years of a 10-year sentence for charges including felony breaking and entering.

Burris has been arrested at least 61 times, according to North Carolina court records, and convicted for both violent and nonviolent offenses. Police said he has been arrested in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Florida.

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