BELFAST — A Stockton Springs man pleaded guilty to manslaughter Friday in Waldo County Superior Court, bringing to a close a 38-year-old murder investigation.

Fifty-eight-year-old Kirt Damon Sr. was arrested in 2020 and charged with murder in connection with the death of 63-year-old Dorothea Burke, who was last seen in June 1984, when Damon was 20. In a jointly recommended plea agreement, Damon pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter Feb. 11.

Damon said he understood that by pleading guilty he was waiving his right to a review by a grand jury and his right to a trial. Superior Court Justice Robert Murray accepted the joint recommendation of 20 years’ incarceration with all but 12 years suspended, followed by four years’ probation.

As part of Damon’s probation conditions, he will have no direct or indirect contact with several individuals who gave testimony for the state, not possess or use intoxicants, including drugs or alcohol, submit to searches and undergo substance abuse treatment.

Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani offered evidence the state prepared to support the murder charge, including testimony from witnesses that both Damon and Burke had attended a wedding reception in Prospect and then visited two local establishments on June 23, 1984.

Throughout the initial investigation, Damon denied talking to Burke or driving his mother’s red Chevrolet Chevette. He also denied going to Captain Jack’s and Priscilla’s, two local drinking establishments, later that day. Several witnesses would testify, Nomani said, to seeing Burke with a young man fitting Damon’s description and would pick his image out of a lineup.

Five days after the wedding, Burke’s body was discovered by construction workers on Meadow Road, a dirt road off Route 1A in Stockton Springs. Forensic evidence collected from the area where Burke’s body was found included cigarette butts, confetti and fibers that suggested Burke and Damon were together that night, contrary to Damon’s statements to police.

From the edge of the roadway where Burke’s body was found, police also collected an empty Brite 100s cigarette pack, a paper bag with confetti, a paper bag that contained full cans of Budweiser beer, and a bag containing a six-pack of Michelob beer. Among the items collected at the scene, Burke’s purse was not found by police, the prosecutor said.

According to Nomani, a police witness had described “obvious and severe wounds” to Burke’s face. Former state Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald Roy collected pieces of confetti from Burke’s hair, and fibers were collected from her body at the scene. One police witness would testify that it appeared Burke’s body had been dragged from near the roadway through the grass to the area where she was found, the prosecutor said.

Nomani said Burke’s daughter would testify that June 23, the day of the wedding, was also her mother’s birthday and she was throwing a party for her mother the following day. Burke attended her niece’s wedding and reception, where family members threw confetti on her and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Burke’s daughter also told state investigators her mother smoked Brite 100s cigarettes and that she went out that day with a black purse.

While at the reception, witnesses told investigators, Damon was seen drinking Budweiser beer and talking with Burke. One witness said that while at the reception they went with Burke to a store and purchased a six-pack of Michelob beer. Another witness saw Burke arrive at Priscilla’s in a red compact car with a stocky young man wearing a red shirt.

Upon searching Damon’s mother’s Chevette, police found small pieces of confetti in the back passenger seat of the vehicle. A police witness testified that it appeared to be the same size and shape as that observed in Burke’s hair. Also found in the car were Brite 100s cigarette butts.

Through the years, Damon had made various statements and admissions to close family and friends about Burke’s death. Damon’s former wife told investigators that he had told her he and a friend borrowed his mother’s car that night and had picked up Burke, who wanted a ride home, at a bar. Damon stated that they backed over Burke and put her body in a ditch and did not attempt to render aid.

Another witness, the wife of a now-deceased friend of Damon’s, told investigators her husband had told her Burke had received a check and had money, and that he, Damon and Burke were driving around that night drinking. When Burke got out to go to the bathroom, they had backed over her.

Nomani also noted that analysts found Burke’s clothes contained red fibers that were similar in appearance and color to fibers from the red chamois cloth shirt collected from Damon’s residence, which witnesses say he was wearing that day.

Former Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald, who determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, would be called to testify, Nomani said. Burke’s death, Greenwald told investigators, most likely was not the result of being struck by a car, but rather of being struck by a two-by-four or a baseball bat.

Dorothea Burke, 63, of Stockton Springs was last seen at a bar in Bucksport June 23, 1984. Source: Maine State Police

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said that, at the time of her death, Burke had three children, had retired from a sardine plant in Belfast and was living with her sister. She reminded the court that the applicable sentencing structure was the one in place in 1984, under which the maximum sentence for manslaughter was 20 years in prison.

“That 20 years is recommended,” she said, “taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of a case that is now 38 years old that relies upon fading memories and also takes into consideration new information from witnesses who were previously apprehensive to testify against the defendant.”

Mitigating factors to consider, she said, were the defendant’s age when the crime took place — he was 20 years old — and his lack of criminal history at the time. Although since 1984, Zainea said, he has been convicted of aggravated assault, operating under the influence and other misdemeanors.

Aggravating factors include the long-lasting and “significant victim impact” that Burke’s death has had on her children, grandchildren and extended family. “For years they have had to live without knowing what happened to their mother, their grandmother, sister and friend,” Zainea said.

“For over 30 years the defendant was repeatedly given the opportunity to give the family closure when law enforcement met with him.”

In a victim impact statement, Burke’s granddaughter said she was 11 months and 13 days old when her mother found out about the murder. “To watch her suffer like she did and still does has always stuck with me. It hurts to watch her hurt when the anniversary of my grandmother’s death comes around.”

Outside the courthouse, Zainea said she felt it was a good resolution for the family. “It gave them some closure,” she said.

As to a possible motive, she said, “They took her purse and there was money in the purse.”