Advertisement
  1. News

Clearwater man pleads guilty to stabbing ex-girlfriend 32 times, could get life

Robert Lee Burton Jr.’s initial guilty plea offer was rejected.
Published Aug. 15, 2013

LARGO — For stabbing his 20-year-old girlfriend 32 times, Robert Lee Burton Jr. told a judge on Tuesday that he was willing to plead guilty— as long as he didn't have to spend more than 10 years in prison.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Keith Meyer rejected that offer, which made it appear Burton's long-awaited trial on an attempted murder charge was about to begin.

But then, after a discussion with his attorney, Burton surprised victim Melissa Dohme and many of her friends and family members in the courtroom by agreeing to plead guilty, period.

He admitted his crime without any deal from prosecutors, meaning he could face up to life in prison.

"I'm shocked that that happened," said Dohme, now 21. She said she was still grasping the fact that she no longer has to work toward his conviction.

"I am here. I am alive. My fight's over, I won. It's the court's fight, not mine anymore."

She does intend to speak at his sentencing hearing, to tell the judge she fears there will be other victims if Burton ever gets out of prison. A hearing date has not been set.

Although Burton, 22, appeared to cry as he pleaded guilty, Dohme's mother Joann said, "I think those tears were for himself."

Assistant State Attorney Scott Vieth said Burton engaged in an escalating pattern of abuse. The couple already had broken up when he texted her in the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2012, asking to meet. He sounded down and was close to her Clearwater home. He just wanted a hug.

When she met him near Crest Lake Park, they embraced. That's when he began stabbing her with a pocketknife.

Two people heard her screams, but he threatened them, saying he had a gun. They backed off and called 911, but remained within eyesight.

Burton reached into his truck for what the bystanders thought might be the gun, but instead retrieved a bigger knife and stabbed her more.

She was stabbed in her head, neck, and arms. Her skull was cracked, her teeth knocked loose. She lost so much blood that doctors had to give her seven blood transfusions.

Burton's surprising decision on Tuesday afternoon came after a full morning of arguments about whether he was mentally capable of standing trial and understanding the proceedings.

Based on the testimony of three mental health experts, the judge ruled that he was.

After the attack, Dohme spent three weeks at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center. She flat-lined four times and suffered a stroke that affected her balance. A severed nerve partly paralyzed the left side of her face.

Doctors weren't sure that Dohme would ever speak, smile or walk the same. But she left rehab without a cane and eventually returned to St. Petersburg College-Clearwater with renewed passion to become a nurse.

"I'm just so proud of her," her 24-year-old sister Michelle said Tuesday. "You wouldn't think your younger sister would be your role model."

Dohme has become an advocate who speaks on domestic violence. Outside the courtroom Tuesday, she said she wanted to let other victims know they aren't alone.

"There is a better life after abuse … you deserve to be loved and respected. Never ever ever should a man lay a hand on you," she said.

Dohme later reconnected with a firefighter-paramedic who helped rush her to the hospital that early morning. The two are now dating.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard Travlos' houseboat in 2013, takes the stand in his own defense Tuesday. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of killing two aboard a houseboat in 2013, told a different version of the same story his girlfriend told. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    One of the messages included a picture of a pellet gun, Tampa police said.
  3. The lobby bar at the Current Hotel on Rocky Point in Tampa serves eclectic cocktails and locally brewed coffee. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Take a look inside Tampa Bay’s newest boutique hotel.
  4. Adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize Tuesday, joining thousands of other adjuncts across Florida who are fighting for better working conditions and pay. [Times]
    The employees are the seventh group in Florida to join Service Employees International Union in recent yeas as it pushes for investment in the state’s higher education institutions.
  5. A pauper's cemetery was established at the northeast corner of property now occupied by King High School in Tampa, location of the school gymnasium (tall building at top left) and the main parking lot. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Conflicting versions emerge of where Ridgewood Cemetery was located. One thing is certain: It was ignored or forgotten.
  6. The University of South Florida ranked ahead of UCF, FIU and FAU in the U.S. News & World Report's Global University Rankings. [USF handout]
    The University of Florida finished 105th, while USF came in at 310. Harvard led the world.
  7. An anti-government protester raises his hands during clashes with police in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The government said Tuesday that 15 people have died in five days of rioting, arson and violent clashes that were sparked by a hike in subway fares and have almost paralyzed the country. RODRIGO ABD  |  AP
    Riot police used tear gas and streams of water to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several streets of Santiago on Tuesday.
  8. The Florida Bar wants the state’s highest court to immediately suspend the law license of Tampa attorney Jose Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo. FACEBOOK PAGE  |  Su Abogado Hispano
    José Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo, abandoned his law practice, according to the petition from the Florida Bar.
  9. West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Molly Anderson said during a news conference on Tuesday that Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Rudelmiro Santizo Perez on Monday in Houston as he tried to flee to Guatemala. West Palm Beach Police Department/Facebook
    Police began investigating on Oct. 3 when a hidden camera was found inside an employee bathroom at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
  10. This Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, photo shows the graded dirt surface where sod will be placed in November inside what will be the stadium for David Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS soccer team that opens its inaugural season in 2020 at the site of the former Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. TIM REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team’s first home match that’s likely to come in March.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement