After breaking up with Robert Burton, Stephanie Ginn Gebo told friends she was afraid of him, but she refused to take them up on offers to hide at their houses instead of with her children in their Parkman home.
Ginn Gebo, who was fatally shot in her bedroom on June 4, 2015, told co-workers that she had a gun and could protect herself, according to testimony on the first day of Burton’s murder trial at Penobscot Judicial Center.
“She said that if he came for her, she’d ‘get him first’ and ‘If I come up missing, look for Robert Burton,’” Shelley Edgecomb of Burnham said of the defendant, who led police on the longest manhunt in state history after his ex-girlfriend’s killing.
Edgecomb worked with Ginn Gebo at the Sebasticook Valley Hospital’s family practice office in Pittsfield. She was one of four friends and co-workers who took the stand to tell essentially the same story about Ginn Gebo’s mindset after she broke up with Burton on May 30, 2015.
None of the witnesses testified that Ginn Gebo had said Burton ever hurt her or had been violent toward her prior to the breakup. All described her as outgoing, outdoorsy and familiar with guns.
The jury of nine men and six women, including three alternates, will decide if Burton shot his ex-girlfriend in the back because he was angry over their breakup or whether he was defending himself after she shot him.
The defendant will take the stand later this week or next, his attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, told jurors in his opening statement. The defendant will testify that the night Ginn Gebo died she had invited him to her home and into her bedroom, where she slept with a gun under her pillow, he said.
Tzovarras also told jurors that the couple had consensual sex the night before in the same bedroom where Ginn Gebo was found dead.
“While Robbie was sitting on the bed, she takes a gun out from under the pillow and shoots him through the shoulder,” Tzovarras told the jury. “It comes out his back. Then she holds the gun to his face, but it doesn’t fire.”
Burton then struggled with Ginn Gebo for the gun, Tzovarras said.
“He was able to move it behind her back and as they struggled. It went off,” he said. “As she fell to the floor, it went off again. She hits the floor, and Stephanie dies.”
Panicked and wounded, Burton fled into the woods, leaving behind his jacket and backpack outside the house near Ginn Gebo’s bedroom window. The murder weapon has not been recovered.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber gave a very different account of the night Ginn Gebo died, which was less than a week after she broke up with Burton.
“Robert Burton was a jealous man to the point of obsession,” he told the jury in his opening statement. “He took the [memory] card out of her cell phone and downloaded her text messages to see if she was texting other men. Found inside his backpack were papers that contained page after page of accusations that Stephanie was having sex with other men.”
Burton deliberately shot Ginn Gebo in the back after breaking into her home through the bedroom window, Macomber said. Ginn Gebo started sleeping with a gun under her pillow after the breakup, he added.
Sidney Gebo, Ginn Gebo’s 15-year-old daughter, testified that she and her younger brother, Connor Gebo, now 12, of Parkman, went upstairs to bed between 8:30 and 9 p.m. the night their mother died. The red-headed, jean-clad teenager calmly told the jury that she woke shortly after 6 a.m. and went downstairs.
“I saw Mom facedown in her bedroom,” she testified. “I saw a lot of blood. I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”
The teenager told jurors that she called 911, then woke her brother, took him outside and waited for an ambulance and police to arrive.
Asked by Macomber to describe her mother’s relationship with Burton, Gebo said: “There was a lot of fighting. He was angry a lot.”
Under cross-examination, she admitted telling investigators that Burton had never threatened to harm her mother.
The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday with testimony from police investigators and Piscataquis County Jail officials
Burton has been held without bail since he turned himself in at the jail in Dover-Foxcroft on Aug. 11, 2015, 68 days after police began searching for him.
Burton turned down an offer from the Maine attorney general’s office last year to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a 60-year sentence, Tzovarras said last month.
The prosecution and defense teams agreed to move the trial from the Piscataquis County Courthouse to Bangor out of concern that an unbiased jury could not be seated in Dover-Foxcroft because the manhunt for Burton drew so much attention.
Burton, a convicted felon, also is charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. He was prohibited from possessing or handling a gun due to domestic violence convictions. Ginn Gebo was not the victim in those incidents, according to investigators.
Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen, who is presiding over the jury trial, will decide if Burton is guilty on that charge.
If convicted of murder, he faces between 25 years and life in prison. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the gun charge.