A jury will decide whether the man who led police on the longest manhunt in state history 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 trial of Robert Burton, 40, of Abbot, who has pleaded not guilty to murder in the June 4, 2015, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Stephanie Ginn Gebo, 37, of Parkman, began Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
The jury of nine men and six women, including three alternates, heard opening statements and testimony from those who first saw Ginn Gebo’s body on June 5, 2015, including her now 15-year-old daughter, Sidney Gebo of Parkman, before breaking for lunch.
Burton will take the stand in his own defense later this week or next, his attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, told jurors in his opening statement. The defendant will testify that the night she died, Ginn Gebo invited him to her home and into her bedroom, where she slept with a gun under her pillow, he said.
“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.”
Burton panicked and, wounded, 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.
But 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 he broke into her home through the bedroom window, Macomber said. Gebo started sleeping with a gun under her pillow after the breakup, he added.
Sidney Gebo 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 her mother died. The red-headed, jean-clad teenager calmly told the jury that she woke shortly after 6 a.m. June 5, 2015, 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 teen told jurors that she called 911, then woke her brother, brought him outside and waited for an ambulance and police to arrive.
When 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.
Ginn Gebo’s friends and co-workers are expected to testify Monday afternoon about the victim’s concerns for her safety after she broke up with Burton.
The trial is scheduled to last eight to 10 days.
Burton has been held without bail since he turned himself in at Piscataquis County 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 due to extensive pretrial publicity during the manhunt.
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.
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.