EXCLUSIVE: Man convicted in Evansville VFW shooting tells us what really made him pull the trigger

Local News

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – For the first time, the man who walked into an Evansville VFW post and shot another man is talking about what he says really made him pull the trigger.

A jury found 71-year-old John Michael Burghardt guilty on attempted murder charges for that shooting back in January.

It’s a story you’ll only see on Eyewitness News.

Burghardt is a 71-year-old man now facing up to 40 years in prison for what he did that night.

He sat down with me Thursday afternoon inside the Vanderburgh County Jail.

He admits he pulled the trigger, but he tells me his actions were out of his control.

“I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry that I hurt another human bein,” said Burghardt.

Facing our cameras in handcuffs – and speaking for the first time – Mike Burghardt talks about that night in January and what he says went wrong.

“I didn’t go down there to do anybody any harm or scare anybody or anything like that. I just wanted to get my wife,” said Burghardt.

Burghardt says he and his wife of 51 years went to the VFW that night to have a few drinks. He says his wife got into some trouble in the bingo hall and was thrown out.

He left but she stayed behind in the bar. It’s when he went back to get his wife that the trouble began.

“Unfortunately, I had the 357-magnum in the truck,” said Burghardt.

He says when he went to the back service door of the VFW he was met by a man with a gun who wouldn’t let him inside.

“I think he was trying to intimidate me with the gun,” Burghardt said.

Burghardt says seeing that gun — along with post-traumatic stress from his service in the Vietnam War led to what happened next.

“I pulled my gun out, watched him jump out, and I stuck up there and I shot him,” admitted Burghardt.

Burghardt says he saw visions from the war as the stress took over his body.

“It was like it was beyond my control. It was. When I was coming around the building after I met him it was as combat as you can get. I mean, if somebody had jumped out behind one of those cars, I would hate to think what would happen because I was on edge,” said Burghardt.

Video obtained by Eyewitness News from that night shows Burghardt being tackled to the ground by those inside, including a woman with a spatula.

“She popped me right in the eye with it. Knocked me colder than a devil. I was beat up by a woman with a spatula,” said Burghardt.

Burghardt was no stranger to this VFW or to other local veterans. He says he worked for the Veteran’s Administration and the state of Indiana for more than 20 years.

But he says things changed when he retired, and he says he was forced to go on medication to help him cope with PTSD.

“I have never in my life drawn a gun on anybody since January 1968 when I returned from Vietnam. Never drawn a gun on anybody in this town,” said Burghardt. “It’s a bad situation I know and I’m going to pay for it for a lot of years.”

Burghardt says he plans to appeal whatever sentence he might get. But he understands he might spend the rest of his life in jail.

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(This story was originally published on August 8, 2019)

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