But according to files in Harris County District Court, Pauletta Burleson's troubles with law enforcement date back to 1997, when she pleaded guilty to abusing her two youngest sons -- ages 3 and 4 at the time.
Eight years later, in December 2005, the couple were charged with beating the boys, then 11 and 12, striking them with an iron, extension cord, shovel and wooden board.
According to an affidavit by a member of HPD's Child Abuse Unit, the boys "had injuries on their heads, back, stomach, arms, buttocks and legs." One of the boys told the officer, per the affidavit, that Tracy Burleson "would have them bend their neck down and hit them on the back of their neck with the board."
The boy "stated he knows defendant 1 by name and by sight as his mama and defendant by name and by sight as reverend Tracy or Daddy."
The investigation was prompted by one of the boys' elementary school teacher's aide, who was also a former neighbor of the family. According to the affidavit, the aide said one of the boys "came to her asking for help, saying he and his little brother were being abused."
Another teacher's aide "said she would also see knots" on the older boy's face; he said they were boils.
"She said she had also seen cuts on his head that [the older boy] would say were from him and his brother fighting. In March 2005, she found that [the older boy] had a draining sore on his foot that was causing him to limp. While walking him to the school nurse, she was confronted by [Pauletta Burleson], who was visiting the campus. [Burleson] wouldn't let her take [the boy] to the nurse, saying [he] digs and picks at the sore all the time in order to get attention."
Per the affidavit, the CPS worker assigned to the case was told by the boys' oldest brother that their mother was responsible for his brothers' injuries. (One of the three sons was arrested today in connection with the murder; the age of that suspect matches the oldest brother, but sheriff's deputies have not released his name because he has not been charged.)
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Another former neighbor told the officer that she witnessed Pauletta Burleson hit one of the boys on the head with a shovel and her fist. Pauletta then allegedly had the two other brothers drag the injured boy "around the house and beat him, saying she would beat them if they didn't 'beat the hell out of him.'"
She also remembered Pauletta allegedly saying "comments such as, 'nobody wanted y'all bastards,' and 'I took y'all cause I felt sorry for y'all asses,' and 'them motherfuckers ain't no good,' and 'y'all wanna eat, y'all gonna fuckin work to eat.'"
Complete documents were not available for Pauletta's 1997 charge, but in the affidavit for the later charges, the officer stated that he reviewed photos of the two boys taken in 1997 and photos taken in 2005. He found injuries and scarring in both sets, stating that "there are injuries to both complainants in the 2005 photos that were not present in the 1997 photos."
History repeated itself in May 2007, when Pauletta Burleson pleaded guilty to injury to a child under 15 -- a third-degree felony -- and again received three years' deferred adjudication. Three years later, she took a bullet to the head.