BROOKSVILLE — Last fall, Christopher Burke got into a deadly argument with his father, Raymond.
The younger Burke, who outweighed the elder by more than 100 pounds, bludgeoned his dad with a flashlight, strangled him and buried him in the yard behind his Istachatta mobile home. Raymond Burke's body remained there, next to the grave of one his beloved dogs, for 64 days.
On Thursday, Christopher Burke, 41, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, agreeing to a deal that will send him to prison for 25 years, minus the time he has served since his arrest last December.
The plea was the result of about a month of negotiations between Burke's public defender and the State Attorney's Office. Prosecutor Bill Catto agreed to the plea deal with the approval of family members who were seeking justice for a loved one killed by one of their own.
The prison term, Catto said, is the shortest the family would accept to forgo a painful trial.
"There's a lot of hurt involved," Catto said. "Like a lot of families, they would have gone to trial if they had to, but there was a minimum (term) that was acceptable to them."
Family members could not be reached for comment Thursday.
If convicted at trial, Burke faced up to life in prison. Instead, he could be free when he's about 65 — five years older than his father at the time he was murdered.
"Instead of potentially going to prison for the rest of his life, he decided to accept that offer," said Michael Lamberti, Burke's attorney.
Though Chief Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. accepted the plea and the 25-year term, Burke will still have an official sentencing hearing on Dec. 13. Since Burke agreed to the deal just before Thursday's status hearing, next month's proceedings will mainly serve as a forum for family members to address the court and Burke himself, Catto said.
They will speak to a man who continued to live on his murdered father's property and spend his money, according to investigators.
About four or five months before the murder, Christopher Burke; his girlfriend, Shannon Atkinson; and her 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.
Christopher previously had been arrested on charges of fraud, aggravated stalking and battery. During the argument on Oct. 13, 2011, he hit his father with the flashlight and strangled him. 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, Raymond's brother, James, grew concerned that he hadn't heard from him. 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 told detectives he believed his nephew and Atkinson had killed Raymond.
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.
Soon after that, Christopher admitted to the killing. He said his father had a tendency to get intoxicated and call his ex-wife, Christopher's mother, and they were arguing about that when Christopher "lost it."
But he also told investigators he had been angry at his father his entire life.
Atkinson, whose initial statement helped break the case, was never charged and would have been called as a witness in the trial, Catto said.
Times photojournalist Octavio Jones contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow him on Twitter @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.