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Murderer who led police on state’s longest manhunt gets 55 years

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Robert Burton enters court before closing arguments in his trial at Bangor Judicial Center, Oct. 4, 2017.

The man who fatally shot his ex-girlfriend then led police on the longest manhunt in state history was sentenced Friday to 55 years in prison.

Robert Burton, 40, of Abbot, was convicted on Oct. 5 of murdering Stephanie Ginn Gebo, 37, of Parkman.

In handing down Burton’s sentence in the Penobscot Judicial Center, Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen said he was tempted to sentence Burton to life but was concerned such a sentence would be reversed on appeal and cause Ginn Gebo’s family more anguish.

“Mr. Burton, when you are released from prison — if you are released from prison — you will be a very old man. And no one will ever again fear you,” Mullen said.

At the trial, the prosecution portrayed Burton as a jealous, jilted lover, who 2½ years ago purposely shot Ginn Gebo three times in the back with her own gun after climbing through her bedroom window, intending to restrain her with duct tape.

But the defense contended that Burton acted in self-defense after Ginn Gebo shot him and that she had invited him to her home.

Burton last year turned down a 60-year offer from prosecutors if he would plead guilty to murder, his attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor said in September as the trial got under way.

Ginn Gebo’s relatives, co-workers and the prosecutor urged the judge to impose a life sentence. Tzovarras argued that a sentence of 35 years would be just.

Sidney Gebo, who found her mother’s body in a pool of blood on the morning of June 5, 2015, refused Friday to say Burton’s name when she spoke to Mullen. Her brother, Connor, now 12, of Parkman did not address the judge.

“He selfishly wanted my mom all to himself,” Sidney, 15, of Plymouth said of Burton. “Our household was tense for two years [when he lived with us]. It was a toxic relationship up until the week leading up to her death.”

Ginn Gebo ended the relationship on May 30, 2015, according to trial testimony.

“That week was carefree and stress free,” Sidney, who now lives with her maternal grandmother, said Friday. “My mom told me, ‘We are finally happy again and we will be alright.’ It would give my family the greatest comfort if you would sentence him to life in prison.”

Burton was emotional when he addressed Mullen.

“This was a tragedy for everyone,” he said. “I think about those kids every day. I am sincerely sorry I killed their mother. If I could trade places with Stephanie, I would so she could spend time and be there with her children.”

Ginn Gebo’s father, Vance Ginn, 66, of Abbot, told reporters outside the courthouse that he understood why the judge imposed a sentence of 55 years.

“Of course, we would have much rather heard the word ‘life,’ but the way that it was explained to us [by prosecutors] is this is kind of preventative medicine because a life sentence would be easier to get overturned than a year-term sentence,” he said. “The attorneys did the math and [on] his earliest possible release [date], doing nothing wrong in prison, he’d be 86 years old. This is life for him that will stand.”

In sentencing Burton, Mullen cited a 1990 state Supreme Court decision, State of Maine v. John Shortsleeves, to explain why he did not think a life sentence would be upheld if challenged. In that case, the justices laid out seven conditions under which a judge may impose a life sentence. One or more of them must exist for a convicted murderer to be sentenced to life.

They are: premeditation; murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty; murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate; multiple victims; murder of a hostage; a previous murder conviction; or the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer. Mullen found that none of those factors applied to Ginn Gebo’s murder.

Burton, who faced between 25 years and life in prison on the murder count, also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He chose to have Mullen, rather than the jury, decide his guilt or innocence on that charge.

On Friday, the judge found Burton guilty of the Class C felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years. Mullen sentence Burton to four years on that charge to be served at the same time as the murder sentence.

Tzovarras said Burton would appeal his murder conviction to the state’s high court.

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