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Pastor arrested for murder

HOUSTON - Did the preacher do it? A 5th Ward pastor, his girlfriend and his son are accused in a murder plot that ended with the death of the pastor's wife. The murder happened a week after his church mysteriously burned down.

The Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force arrested the trio Tuesday morning and brought them to the Harris County Sheriff's Office for questioning.

Pastor Tracy Burleson, 44, and his son, William Darnell Fuller, 20, are charged with murder. Burleson's girlfriend Tyonne Palmer, 31, is facing a charge of tampering with evidence.

Burleson and Palmer were still wearing their pajamas when they were transferred to jail.

Last month, Fox 26 was there when Pastor Burleson delivered a message of hope to his small congregation during a Sunday service in the parking lot of his church. A suspicious fire had just destroyed the 93-year-old New Mount Calvary Baptist Church, a church that had reportedly fallen on hard financial times.

"In a couple services we were told that if we didn't put more money in (the offering) the church would be closed," said Edward Payton, a member.

Pastor Burleson went before our camera asking the city to help.

"We do need drums. We need keyboards. We need whatever," he said on May 16th.

His wife of about a decade looked on during that Sunday service and prayed.

"God wants us to keep our focus on him. If we take our focus off God believe me world we have nothing," Paulette Burleson told Fox 26.

A week after speaking to us, Paulette Burleson was shot and killed in the driveway of her home. The Harris County Sheriff's Office says Pastor Burleson told them he had driven to a convenience store to pick up some snacks. When he returned, his wife was dead.

"Common sense prevails a lot. A lot of things did not add up, but I refused to just say he was guilty," said Earl Jackson, assistant pastor at New Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

Paulette Burleson's son, John Ross, says homicide investigators called him everyday, even attending his mother's funeral to work on the case. On Tuesday Burleson was charged with her murder. Burleson told Fox 26 he doesn't know who killed his wife. When asked if he has anything to say to his church members, Burleson replied, "That I didn't do this. I didn't do it."

Sources close to the investigation tell Fox 26 Burleson ordered his son to torch the church to collect money. Ross says his mother found out about the alleged plot.

"He orchestrated that to get rid of my mom and collect insurance money. He had too much to lose if he allowed her to open her mouth so he had to shut her up," he said.

Our sources tell us Fuller, the son, was the trigger man.

"He took a whole lot away from our family, and we're damn mad about it," said Joyce Bingham, Paulette Burleson's sister.

The victim's family says Paulette wanted to leave her husband because he was unfaithful to her.

"He was a womanizer, a user. He was not a man. He did not have a backbone," said Ross.

Those are tough words for longtime members to hear.

"For us not to know the other part of his life, it shocked me. I was looking at him being my pastor," said Payton.

Assistant Pastor Jackson says he's telling the congregation not to judge but to focus on prayer. Churches have rebuilt from fire before but recovering from murder may be so much harder.

No charges have been filed related to the church fire.

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