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Christopher Burke to serve 25 years in father's murder

Christopher Burke is sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday by Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. Burke accepted a plea deal and the prison term last month. Family members opted to address the court at the hearing and not Burke himself.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Christopher Burke is sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday by Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. Burke accepted a plea deal and the prison term last month. Family members opted to address the court at the hearing and not Burke himself.

BROOKSVILLE — After her father disappeared last fall, a frantic Angie Kmiec rang his cellphone, over and over again.

As Kmiec's sense of dread grew, hearing her dad's voice on his voicemail message became a source of comfort.

Then one day she called and didn't even hear that.

"I knew it was over, that he was gone," a tearful Kmiec told Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. on Wednesday.

By the time Kmiec made that last call, 60-year-old Raymond Burke's body was lying in a grave in the yard behind his Istachatta mobile home. Detectives would eventually arrest his son, 41-year-old Christopher Burke, who admitted bludgeoning his dad with a flashlight, strangling him and burying him.

On Wednesday, Merritt sentenced Burke to 25 years in prison. The hearing was a formality after Burke last month accepted a plea deal and the prison term to avoid a trial conviction on a charge of second-degree murder. He faced a possible life sentence.

But the hearing gave family members, who agreed to the plea deal, a chance to address the court and, if they chose, Burke himself.

Kmiec and her uncle, James Burke, were the only two to speak. They opted to address Merritt and not their relative, who stood a few feet away, shackled in an orange jumpsuit and staring down at the lectern in front of him.

Raymond Burke was a good man who once coached youth football and softball, his daughter said.

At the time of his death, though, he was disabled. He weighed 120 pounds and could barely walk.

"He was defenseless," said Kmiec, who traveled with her husband from Texas to attend the hearing.

About four or five months before the murder, Christopher Burke, his girlfriend, Shannon Atkinson, and their young son moved into a one-bedroom shack next to Raymond Burke's mobile home. The couple told friends they couldn't find work and needed a place to stay. Their teenage son also lived there for a while.

On Oct. 13, 2011, the younger Burke hit his father with the flashlight and strangled him, authorities said. He then taped his father's feet and hands, wrapped him in a blanket and dragged him to the back yard.

About a week later, James Burke grew concerned that he hadn't heard from his brother. Christopher told James that his father had left the state. Figuring his brother would not leave behind his truck and five dogs, James called the Sheriff's Office and reported him missing.

He said he suspected his nephew and at least one accomplice were to blame.

"I told (a detective) I wouldn't be surprised if they killed him and buried him on his own property, and that's what they done," James Burke, of Valdosta, Ga., told Merritt. "I really don't think Christopher acted alone. I think he had help."

Investigators would discover that Christopher drained his father's bank accounts as he continued to lie about his whereabouts. In early December, the couple hosted a cookout on the property, not far from where Raymond's body was buried.

In an interview on Dec. 15, Atkinson told detectives what had happened. She was never charged and would have been called as a witness during the trial, Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said.

Soon after Atkinson's statement, Christopher admitted to the killing. He said his father had a tendency to get intoxicated and call his estranged wife, Chris' mother, and that they were arguing about that when Christopher "lost it."

But he also told investigators he had been angry at his father his entire life.

Kmiec has another theory. Prescription pill abuse, she said, changed her brother, the baby of three siblings.

"This was not about anger, because I know Chris loved our dad," she told Merritt. "This was drugs. I know drugs are terrible and make people do crazy things."

A few moments later, Merritt asked whether Christopher Burke had anything to say. He shook his head and mumbled, "No, sir."

Burke will get credit for a little more than year of time he already has served. If he serves the full sentence, he will be freed when he's about 65 — five years older than his father at the time he was murdered.

Before the hearing, Atkinson's mother, Jacquelyn West, said Christopher Burke and her daughter cared for Raymond Burke. He, in turn, abused alcohol and threatened them, West said.

"I know Chris didn't mean to kill his father," she said. "He was defending his family."

Why not call 911 right away?

"I don't know why they chose to cover it up," West said. "I think fear just set in."

After Merritt handed down the sentence, Kmiec kept her eyes on her brother as a bailiff fingerprinted him and led him through a side door.

He never looked back.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.

Christopher Burke to serve 25 years in father's murder 12/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:20pm]
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