Was Tommy Burkett’s death made to look like a suicide as a cover-up for murder?

Tommy Burkett

A revolver rested in Tommy’s hands


Spent shell found in Tommy’s room

On December 1st, 1991, Tommy Burkett was visiting home after the Thanksgiving holiday.  Tommy was a junior at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, and his parents lived about twenty miles from the campus. His parents had been out for much of that afternoon, but returned to the house at 6:10 PM.  Inside Tommy’s bedroom, they discovered the unimaginable.

Tommy was upright on the sofa in his bedroom.  He had been shot once through the mouth.  A revolver rested in his hands.

Tommy’s mother, Beth, recalled the horrific scene inside Tommy’s bedroom:

“I went over close to him and I knelt down beside and I touched his hands and they were stone cold.”

From the moment police arrived on the scene that night, they have insisted that Tommy Burkett committed suicide.  But Tommy’s parents, Beth and Tom Burkett, believed their son was murdered.  Beth’s suspicions began immediately:

Tommy’s driver’s license was found

“After fire and rescue left, the uniformed officer entered the house immediately and he was in a hurry, which I thought was strange because my son was dead.”

In the emotion of the moment, Tom picked up the revolver.  He was surprised to find its cylinder unlatched.  The gun could not have been fired in that condition.

Police arrived to the scene shortly after 6:20 PM. The lead detective went up to Tommy’s room and soon emerged with an old bank deposit slip.  On one side of the slip there was a note which said, “I want to be cremated.” Beth was convinced the handwriting was not her son’s.

To the police, the facts spoke for themselves.  Tommy’s death was an open and shut case of suicide.  But Beth and Tom were certain their son had been murdered.  It wasn’t just the unlatched gun and the suspicious note.  Tommy’s glasses, wallet, and driver’s license were missing.

Neighbors witnessed Tommy being chased

Two days after Tommy’s death, his parents went to his dorm room to collect his belongings.  It was there that they found Tommy’s driver’s license.

According to Tom and Beth, school administrators would not provide any information about the student who had turned it in.  For Tommy’s parents, it was another unanswered question to add to a growing list.

Tommy’s parents decided to talk to their neighbors, to see if they had noticed anything unusual the day Tommy died.  Beth was stunned by what people had seen the afternoon of her son’s death:

“Several neighbors reported seeing Tommy’s car being chased by a larger, darker car.  One neighbor saw the cars coming and he thought, this is serious.  It’s life or death. Another neighbor reported that one of the cars involved in the case at one point drove through someone’s lawn.  Tommy’s car was apparently run off the road and he was assaulted.  He got away from his attackers and made it back to our house.” 

A few weeks after Tommy’s death, Beth noticed a spray of small reddish marks on the stairway in their home. She and her husband informed authorities, but no official investigation followed.

Tommy’s parents still search for answers

Tom and Beth hired Paul Kish, a bloodstain expert based in New York.  He confirmed that the spots were blood:

“It’s not consistent with… committing suicide in a room, sitting on a sofa.  Some other violent altercation took place where blood was shed… with a lot of energy being exerted towards the bullet, like a gunshot.”

Tom and Beth decided to have Tommy’s body exhumed for a second autopsy.  The new findings added to their growing belief that Tommy had been murdered.  The second autopsy revealed that Tommy had unexplained abrasions, bruising on his right ear, and a broken jaw.

To Tommy’s parents, a terrifying picture of his last hours had begun to emerge.  Beth resolved to find out if her son had telephoned 911 for help on the day he died.  She called the local dispatcher and asked if there was any record of her son making a complaint.  The dispatcher informed Beth that Tommy had made two complaints—one in August and the other in October.  But when Beth asked for the nature of the complaints the dispatcher changed her story and said Tommy never called 911:

“She said ‘Well on the computer screen it shows his name and the time that he called and then he made two consecutive calls, but the message has been deleted…’  So she was gone several minutes and said ‘I don’t know why his name is on the computer, but he didn’t call 911’. I know Tommy made the calls because the police department personnel told me.  I know this to be a fact. I’m angry every day of my life.  I wake up angry every morning that this police department did not respond to the 911 calls.”

If Tommy did call 911, were the official phone records innocently erased or deliberately purged?  More importantly, if Tommy had called, why were his pleas for help ignored by the authorities?

Tommy’s parents began to re-examine a series of events that preceded their son’s death.  It began with a phone call from Tommy around November 12th, less than three weeks before he died.

Tommy called home and told his mother that someone had broken into his mailbox and stole his paycheck.  He sounded frantic on the phone.

According to Beth, Tommy was assaulted by a student a few days after the phone call:

“We were later told by a student at the university that the young man who had Tommy’s driver’s license after he was dead was the same student who had beaten up Tommy.”

His parents gathered more information.  They concluded that Tommy was working as a DEA informant, and that a group of students dealing drugs on campus conspired to kill him.

Beth and Tom are convinced that their neighbors saw Tommy being chased by the killers, and that he got home in time to call 911 before the killers burst in.

An informant told Beth and Tom their son was beaten to death with a baseball bat.  According to Beth, the phone books were used to minimize bruising and absorb blood spatters:

“The story fit in with everything we had noticed and could not account for on, during the previous months.  For example, we had noticed our phone books were missing the week after Tommy died.  Also there had been a ball bat in Tommy’s bedroom and the gripping tape had been stripped off the bat.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency has officially denied any connection to Tommy Burkett.  Police in Fairfax County, Virginia, still consider his death a suicide.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season seven with Robert Stack and in season two with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.




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    This is a typical Unsolved Mysteries trope, the suicide-that-might-be-a-murder-because-the-family-things-so. With what we know about suicide today, there are actually some notable. Psychology Today points out that some signs of suicidal ideation are “Social withdrawal often precedes a suicide attempt, perhaps reflecting the victim’s effort to cut himself off from potential aid. When accompanied by weight loss and mutism, this social withdrawal can be particularly dangerous.” Given how in the dark Tommy’s parents were about his activities leading up to his death and who he was involved with, suicide is not something you can immediately rule out. Given the time this happened and the perception of suicide and mental health at the time, it’s not really surprising that so many of these stories resulted in the parents of the deceased not believing the suicide idea.

    That said, I’m not saying he did commit suicide, I’m saying that it is still a plausible explanation. However, the autopsy and circumstantial evidence would suggest that there is something more at play.

    However, the fact that he was a narc for the DEA? Seriously? That’s a bit far-fetched. Especially by this point when that information could be easily found through an FOI request. Also, what purpose would the DEA have in disavowing that he was narcing for them? Doesn’t make any sense. You’d think that if one of their informants was murdered the DEA would be all over it, especially with something so tantalizing as drugs being circulated through a university. It was 1991, during the height of the “War on Drugs”, it doesn’t make any logical sense to try and disavow anything that Tommy Burkett would have been doing for them.

    Looking at this story, and yeah there is some lack of care or concern for solving the murder. However, I don’t think it was because he was a DEA agent. I think that is just a fanciful idea by his parents who thought their son could do no wrong. Certain things strike me as interesting. Tommy knew people were harassing him, he wouldn’t say why, but it was clear that they knew something about him that he didn’t want to get out. In addition, the alleged killers were reported as actively telling people that they were looking for him to beat him up. Then there was the fight in the hallway. There’s also the police’s lack of concern and quick conclusion of a suicide.

    Remember, again, this was 1991. Maybe the situation was not that Tommy was an informant for the DEA. Thinking about social attitudes at the time, I am left to wonder if Tommy was secretly homosexual? If you look at the case from this theory, it does make some sense. Keep in mind, this was 1991, homophobia was at its height thanks in part to the AIDS panic of the time. It could be that perhaps Tommy was gay, made it known to the wrong person and these guys went out and beat him to death. Given the attitudes of the day, it is entirely possible that the police didn’t care much for solving the case. Remember, gay people were on par with prostitutes and vulnerable segments of society. It wouldn’t be surprising if the stigma at the time clouded any sort of legitimate investigation.

    It would also make sense for their parents to have this DEA fantasy. The possibility that their son was gay was probably so upsetting to this family that they came up with this “DEA informant” angle to try make their son a hero in their minds and hopefully convince people to take his case seriously.

    Obviously, there was nothing in any of the material on this case that could confirm this theory, and with the parents now deceased we’ll never really know what was going on behind closed doors in that family.


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    Good grief

    This case, really, is solved, thanks to the work of the informants, witnesses and parents in never giving up. I found the names of the students/drug dealers who were harassing Tommy: an update found on fandom wiki). I’m so grateful karma has been proven by various laws of physics. It will be nice to see these guys get what’s coming to them – which will be way worse than what our deeply flawed criminal justice system would have every given them in the first place. What gets me is the terrible, terrible – so bad! – job in covering it up. Anyone with two cells in their brain knows it wasn’t suicide from the shoddy cover up. Did I mention how bad the cover up was?


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    I knew Tommy in high school. There was no way he killed himself. He talked one of our friends OUT of suicide several times. RIP Tommy. You did not deserve this.


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    Sadly, Tommy’s parents have both passed away since. Beth George died in 2003 and Thomas Burkett died in 2006. Both died without knowing the truth about Tommy’s death.
    Oddly enough, no one carried the torch after their death.


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    This has reminded me of the Rachel Hoffman murder (she was essentially pressured by cops into working as a police informant and was killed during a “botched drug sting”) and the death of Andrew Sadek (again, pressured into working as a police informant and subsequently found dead in a river with a gunshot wound to the head and a backpack full of rocks).

    I hope friends and family can find peace and that karma quickly finds the perps.


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    Sherri Bcenti

    He might have been involved with drugs,had to get out of being charged with felonies so the police said he has to give people up. My son went to school at Central Washington and started dealing drugs and got caught. So, to make the story short, he had to give people up and he wouldnt so he took the wrap. Went to prison for his crime. The drug world is evil and cruel!


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    David Martin

    For more information on the case see “News Suppression in Action” at http://www.dcdave.com/article4/020704.htm. The Net archive version of the Burkett web site is at http://web.archive.org/web/20010202055900/http://www.thepacc.org/.


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    Kevin Birnbaum

    What gets me is killers are out there probably killing again and the cops and DEA don’t give a sh*t,


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    I really do believe that whoever was going after Tommy the culprit Had shot and killed him Tommy did not commit suicide and somebody had staged the whole thing! The young man had too much to live for It seemed like he was a very sweet young man he was in the wrong place at the wrong time rest in peace you are a gift from God and to your family you will always have your family with you and to your family I would like to say I apologize for your loss!


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    If he was a DEA informant it would be logic if his cover has been broken that the so called hit squad of the DEA as in many cases has been set in to tie up lose ends.
    Why would the police lie about recalling yet missing 911 calls and why would they with no moral value let the parents think it was a suicide without a propper investigation. It is easy to conclude in this case that it was indeed a cover up and by logical read of this case that the police had something to do with it either to cover up there own ends or to cover up for a higher entity.

    My personal thought is that i highly doubt that campus grade students have the guts to conspire at such a horrific level that they did in this case is rather hard to believe.


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    Is this solved yet


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    Of all suspicious death case’s, this one is the most disturbing. I felt appalled when I had read about this. Yet, I wondered if those cover up has any ties to the mena drug smuggling operation.


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    this is crazy..


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    I was going to pipe in that the family should use the Freedom of Information Act request to demand whatever documents the DEA has about their son…but then I read the comments and I am so sorry that they passed away without ever knowing what happened and worse, there’s no one left to advocate for their child.


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    it is Saturday past not knowing what happened to their son I think the key is and where was the paycheck from that they found out he was working for the DEA I think they should look into that morehe had to have deposited other checks from them that’s where the proof is rest in peace to Tommy his mother and father


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      You are partly right. From what I have read about this case. Tommy was working part time on the campus of Marymount University. It was his paycheck from Marymount that was stolen in the smashed mailbox. But something else coming from the DEA could have been there and discovered by those who were after him.


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    is there anyway to watch the unsolved mystery episode on this death? any suggestions?


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    There is diffently some covering up going on. The police are hiding something. As far as the DEA goes well that is hear say. Maybe Tommy was an informant. Something was going on in his life that he was keeping secret. Eye witness saw him being chased. Computer records showed he called 911. Its sounds shady that the operator said yea he called then change her story and said it was a mistake. 911 calls are recorded and there are no mistakes made. If you make a call it shows up. They diffently know more then they let on. Plus that guy that had Tommy’s license and turned it in. The police don’t question him. Something smells fishy. This is horrific for the parents. They have been lied to.


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    This case bothers me so much that I think the Police Station and the DEA have some dirty deals going on. All the facts are there!!!! The parents had to be the freaking detectives for goodness sake!! I hope the parents find peace and whoever did this gets what they deserve.


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    Charles Hanners

    This case has has been bothering me for many years. The family used to have a website to help gather more information. DEA needs to give his family some answers after all these years.


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    Sounds like someone is definitely covering up something. .. I hope the family finds out what happened to there son so he can finally rest in peace and maybe they can live there lives a little…. I’m so sorry for your loss….


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    He was obviously murdered. RIP Tommy.


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Typically, we retain your Personal Data for the period necessary to fulfill the purposes outlined in this Privacy Policy, unless a longer retention period is required or permitted by law.  This may include retaining your Personal Data indefinitely, even after you are no longer a CMP member, in order to provide you with future marketing opportunities and other purposes, as well as to comply with our legal obligations, resolve disputes, or enforce any of our agreements.  


Please note that you can request, at any time, that we delete your Personal Data.  All requests must be directed to the contact in the “Contact Information” section below.  We can decide to delete your Personal Data if we believe that the data is incomplete, inaccurate, or that our continued use and storage are contrary to our obligations to other members, individuals, or third parties.  When we delete your Personal Data, it will be removed from our active databases or anonymized so that the data is no longer identified with you, but the data may remain in our archives if CMP determines that it is not practical or possible to delete it.

Your Personal Data is processed in the United States, where privacy laws may be less stringent than the laws in your country and where the government, courts, or law enforcement may be able to access your data.  By submitting your Personal Data to us, you agree to the transfer, storage and processing of your Personal Data in the United States.

You, as the data subject, have the right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority, in particular in the Member State of your habitual residence, place of work, or place of the alleged infringement, if you believe that the processing of your personal data does not comply with legal requirements.

In the event we determine the occurrence of a data security incident, we will notify you by email, US mail, telephone, or other means as permitted by law.

If you have questions, comments, or complaints concerning our privacy practices or if you wish to change, access, or remove your Personal Data, please contact us as indicated below.  We will attempt, where practical, to respond to your requests and to provide you with additional privacy related information.

Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. is the owner of this Website and retains all ownership rights to the information collected at this Website. Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. reserves the right to change, modify, add, or remove provisions of this Privacy Statement. Any changes to this Privacy Statement will be posted here, and we encourage you to check back from time to time. In addition, Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. will notify registered users of changes as they occur.

We allow third-party companies to serve ads and/or collect certain anonymous information when you visit our web site. These companies may use non-personally identifiable information (e.g., click stream information, browser type, time and date, subject of advertisements clicked or scrolled over) during your visits to this and other Web sites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services likely to be of greater interest to you. These companies typically use a cookie or third party web beacon to collect this information. To learn more about this behavioral advertising practice or to opt-out of this type of advertising, you can visit networkadvertising.org. Your use of the site constitutes your agreement to accept cookies, beacons and third-party advertising. Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for third-party ads.

ARTICLE 1. Personalization
1.1 We may use the contact information you give us to better tailor your Website experience to your interests, and to send you information about Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. and its services as well as promotional material on behalf of some of our partners. We may use other information that you provide to us to show you content in which you may be interested and to display the content according to your preferences. We will also share this information within Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. in order to enhance your experience on this and other Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. Websites.
1.2 In addition, we may share this information with advertisers or other third parties that are not part of the Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. family on an aggregate or other basis that does not disclose your identity or contact information.

ARTICLE 2. Online Surveys/Contests
2.1 From time to time, we may conduct online surveys and contests. These may ask you for contact information (like name or email address) and demographic information (like zip code or age).
2.2 We may use this contact information from our surveys and contests to provide you with information about our company and promotional material on behalf of some of our partners, and to contact you when necessary.

ARTICLE 3. Shopping/Commercial Services
3.1 This Website may offer shopping services, which may be offered by us or by a firm that operates a store under contract with us. If our Website offers shopping or other commercial services, you will use a customer order form to request information, products, and services. The order form will ask you to give us contact information (like name or email address), financial information (like account or credit card numbers), and demographic information (like zip code or age).

3.2 We will use the financial information that you provide to bill you for products and services. By giving our Website your credit card and related personal information, you are authorizing our store to give that information to the merchant and credit card company in order to confirm and fulfill your order.

3.3 We will use contact information from the order form to fulfill your orders. We may also use contact data to get in touch with you when necessary. We will not otherwise use or distribute your financial information without your prior approval.

ARTICLE 4. Public forums
4.1 This Website may make available chat rooms, blogs, forums, message boards, and news groups. Please remember that any information that you disclose in these areas becomes public information and you should exercise caution when deciding to disclose your personal information. Information disclosed by you or by others enters the public domain and may be freely used by any other persons or entities using the site.

ARTICLE 5. Information Sharing With Third Parties
5.1 From time to time we may enter into a special relationship with another company that is not owned by Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. to provide additional features at this Website. These special relationships may include “powered by” partners, business partners, sponsors, and co-branded sites (referred to here as “co-branded pages”). These might include, for example, pages that share our name and that of another entity. You should look for a specific privacy statement on any such co-branded page. Any personal information that you provide when signing up at one of those co-branded pages may be shared with our third party partner. You should also check our partner’s website for information regarding its privacy policies.

5.2 Also, the nature of some features of our Website may require that we share personal information about you with persons or companies outside of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. For example, this may occur at a feature that enables you, via our Website, to ask questions of persons or entities that are not part of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. By responding to those features of the site, whether by email or direct entry of information on our Website, you are consenting to our transferring that information to such persons or entities.

5.3 With respect to specific registration modules, like contests, we may disclose personal information collected, and we may post a conspicuous statement on the registration module to the effect that we will be disclosing the information collected with third parties.

5.4 Finally, we may share any of the information collected from you with these other non- Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc companies in an aggregate basis. The aggregated information is not linked to any information that can identify you.

ARTICLE 6. IP Address and Log Files
6.1 We may use your IP address to administer our Website, to help diagnose problems with our server, to analyze trends, to track users’ webpage movements, to help identify you and your shopping cart, and to gather broad demographic information for aggregate use.

ARTICLE 7. Cookies
7.1 This Website may use a standard technology called a “cookie” to collect information about how you use the Website. Cookies reside on your computer and help our Website to recognize your computer’s browser as a previous visitor. This information allows us to customize delivery of information. For example, our Website may use cookies to save and remember registration information or preferences that you may have set while browsing the Website, to keep track of your shopping cart, to ensure you don’t see the same ad content repeatedly, to deliver content specific to your interests, and to save your password so you do not have to re-enter it each time you visit our site. We use cookies only to gather information as indicated in this policy.

7.2 In addition, on occasion our site may also set a “session cookie” which helps us administer the Website. The session cookie expires when you close your browser and does not retain any information about you after it expires.

7.3 Finally, we may also use an ad network provider to help present advertisements on this and other Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. websites. This ad network provider, like other advertising service vendors, uses cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies on the hard drive of your computer to serve you advertisements tailored to interests you have shown by browsing on this and other sites you have visited, and to determine whether you have seen a particular advertisement before and to avoid sending you duplicate advertisements. In doing so, the provider collects non-personal data such as your browser type, your operating system, web pages visited, time of visits, content viewed, ads viewed, and other clickstream data. The use of cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies by these ad network providers is subject to their own privacy policies, not ours, and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for the collection or use of such information.

ARTICLE 8. Banner Advertising
8.1 We have contracted with an ad-service to place banner advertising on our Website. All of the data provided and generated by the ad-server software remains in our possession. This feature of our Website may, on occasion, set “cookies” on your computer. Any information collected or stored by the ad-service or the cookies is treated in the same manner as other information described in this statement.

ARTICLE 9. Children’s Personal Information
9.1 Consistent with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act:

9.1.1 This site does NOT collect, use, or disclose personal information (including online contact information) of children under the age of thirteen (13).

9.1.2 In the event that a child under the age of 13 attempts to register on our site, we will NOT accept the registration and will delete information received from the child.

9.1.3 In the event that a child posts personal information in a public forum such as a chat room, we will attempt to delete that information once we become aware of it.

ARTICLE 10. Security of Your Personal Information
10.1 Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for information collected through this Website. We believe that we have adequate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of the information we collect on our Website. We also use internal protections to limit access to users’ personal information to only those employees who need the information to perform a specific job.

ARTICLE 11. Sale or Merger
11.1 If this Website is sold to, or merges with, another company not owned by Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc., you should expect that some or all of the information collected from this Website may be transferred to the buyer/surviving company. If so, CMP will seek to obligate the acquiring company to use any personal information transferred by this Website in a manner consistent with this statement, but cannot guarantee that it will be able to impose that requirement or that the acquiring company will comply.

ARTICLE 12. Legal Process
12.1 You should be aware that Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. may be required to disclose your personal information to the government or third parties under certain circumstances, such as in court or regulatory proceedings.

ARTICLE 13.  Contacting the Website

13.1        If you have any questions about this Privacy Statement, the practices of this Website, or your dealings with this Website, please contact us at: unsolved@unsolved.com.

ARTICLE 14.  general information

14.1        Choice of Law:  This Agreement and the Additional Terms shall be governed by, construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of California , as it is applied to agreements entered into and to be performed entirely within such state, without regard to conflict of law principles.

14.2        Choice of Forum:  You agree that any cause of action you or Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. brings to enforce this Agreement and/or the Additional Terms, or in connection with any matters related to this Website and/or the Privacy Statement, shall be submitted to arbitration in the County of Los Angeles, State of California, United States of America in accordance with the commercial rules and regulations of the American Arbitration Association then in effect (as amended herein), provided that said arbitration shall be heard before a single arbitrator, who shall be a retired judge, selected pursuant to such rules and regulations, and shall be conducted on an expedited basis and in confidence. The arbitrator’s decision shall be controlled by the terms and conditions of this agreement and any other agreements I may enter into with you, and shall be final and binding, and shall provide for each party to bear its own costs of arbitration and attorneys’ fees.  Each party expressly waives any right to a jury.  Judgment upon the award of the arbitrator may be entered or enforced in any court of competent jurisdiction. 

14.4        If any provision of this Agreement, or the application thereof to any person or circumstances, is held invalid or for any reason unenforceable then such provision shall be deemed superseded by a valid, enforceable provision that matches, as closely as possible, the original provision, and the other provisions of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect.  The failure of either party to insist upon strict performance of any provision of this Agreement shall not be construed as a waiver of any provision or right.  Unless expressly provided otherwise, this Agreement is the entire agreement between you and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. with respect to the use of this Website and shall not be modified except in writing, signed by an authorized representative of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc.

ARTICLE 15.  European Union and Other Foreign Nations

15.1        This Website is governed by and operated in accordance with the laws of United States of America and is intended for enjoyment of residents of the United States.  Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. makes no representation that this Website is governed by or operated in accordance with the laws of other nations.  By using this Website and submitting any personal information, visitors from outside of the United States acknowledge this Website is subject to U.S. law, consent to the transfer of personal data to the U.S., and waive any claims that may arise under their own national laws.