Advertisement
  1. News

Man who stabbed ex-girlfriend 32 times gets life without parole

Published Oct. 22, 2013

CLEARWATER — A 22-year-old man convicted of nearly killing his ex-girlfriend by stabbing her 32 times outside her Clearwater home was sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday.

Nearly two years ago, Melissa Dohme was stabbed by ex-boyfriend Robert Lee Burton Jr. Afterward, doctors said she was seconds from death. Months of surgeries and therapy followed.

Burton pleaded guilty to an attempted first-degree murder charge in August. On Monday, his family sobbed as the judge handed down his sentence.

"Both of their lives," said Circuit Judge Keith Meyer, "will never be the same."

Dohme, 21, whose emergence as an advocate for domestic violence victims and whose romance with one of the paramedics who saved her life gained nationwide attention, recounted her attack to a packed courtroom Monday.

During the early morning of Jan. 24, 2012, Burton had repeatedly called and texted her. She had broken up with him. He had a no-contact order from a battery charge in which Dohme had been the victim.

Could he swing by her house, he asked on the phone, for one final hug?

Dohme agreed. "I just wanted him to leave me alone," she testified Monday.

Outside her house near Crest Lake Park, Dohme embraced him. Then she heard the click of a switchblade knife and the stabbing began.

It didn't seem real, she said, until the knife sliced down her throat and filled her mouth with blood.

At some point, he retrieved a larger knife from his red truck and continued stabbing Dohme. He drove away as two strangers called 911. She crawled to a mailbox so that he wouldn't run her over.

"I lied there in the dirt, and it felt like forever. I was alone. I didn't want to die," Dohme said. "I didn't want my mom to walk out to my murder scene."

A trauma surgeon testified Monday that it was a miracle Dohme survived. She suffered a stroke from the blood loss and had cuts across her arms, neck, head and face. Her teeth were knocked out, and her skull was cracked.

"She was seconds away from dying," said Bayfront Health St. Petersburg trauma surgeon Dr. Jeffery Johnson.

But Dohme survived, eventually leaving the intensive care unit. She learned to walk again and underwent cognitive and speech therapy. She later underwent more surgery to diminish the appearance of her scars. The right side of her face, where a stab pierced a facial nerve, remains mostly paralyzed, she testified.

Burton was captured later on the day of the attack after he overdosed on sleeping pills and crashed his truck in Pasco County.

Defense attorney Victoria Holmberg asked the judge to have mercy on Burton.

She pointed out that prior to the battery and attempted murder charges, Burton never showed a streak of violence. No criminal record. No disciplinary problems at school.

"This is an aberration," she said. "Doing a horrible thing doesn't always make you a horrible person."

His stepfather, Michael Manzi, testified that Burton was a typical boy who just needed to get his life together after high school. He was unemployed and out of college at the time.

"Just lazy," Manzi said, "but he's always been a good kid."

Before his sentence was announced, Burton briefly stood and apologized.

"I can't express the depths of my regret and sorrow," he said. "I will have to live with that forever."

As he was sentenced, members of his family began to sob. "I'm so sorry," one woman whispered.

Afterward, Dohme burst out of the courthouse doors, smiling and holding hands with boyfriend Cameron Hill, a Clearwater firefighter-paramedic.

She plans to attend the University of South Florida to pursue a career as a social worker or a victim advocate.

"I am not a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence," Dohme said. "I can finally move on. This book is closed."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Gabriel Tillman faces charges of grand theft for the fire extinguisher, as well as petit theft and criminal mischief ($200 or less). [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    Video shows Gabriel Tillman push, punch, hip check and ultimately use a fire extinguisher to try to smash his way through a locked door.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hits in the batting cage during a meeting with minor league baseball players and officials at FunCity Turf, Sunday in Burlington, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) [CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP]
    The Democratic presidential candidate is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.
  3. Shane Sheil, 16, only wanted three things for Christmas, an Xbox 360, a skateboard and a family.  After a story about Shane ran in the St. Petersburg Times, the community responded, and two of his three wishes have already been fulfilled.  Someone donated an Xbox 360 to him, and a local skateboard shop offered to let him come in and pick out anything he wanted.  He now spends his days playing games like Need for Speed Carbon with friends, and said he hopes he can go get the skateboard up soon.  (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    The generosity of more than 100 people Shane Sheil, a 16-year-old in Pinellas County’s foster care system, never met changed his life.
  4. Shane Sheil, 16, rides his bike to and from school every day.  He prides himself on his speed as well as being self-sufficient.   (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [LYTTLE, MELISSA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    “I wish someone would actually be there for me, you know? I’m outgoing. I can bring joy. I just want to be adopted.”
  5. From the left: Christyana Richardson, 10, Terrence Simpson, 11, Sherina Akins, 33, Tharon Simpson, 12, Isaiah Shine, 11 months-old and Bronchea King, 5, near their home in North Miami. [MATIAS J. OCNER MOCNER | Miami Herald]
    Sherina Akins, a single mother of three, adopted a cousin’s two children who were about to be placed in foster care.
  6. Elias Alan-Arturo Flor, 19, of Wahneta was charged with battery and committing a lewd act in front of a child 16 or younger after turning himself into authorities. [Winter Haven Police Department]
    Elias Alan-Arturo Flor was arrested after turning himself in at the police station.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
    The suspect and the victim did not know each other prior to the shooting.
  8. Former FBI Director James Comey talks with "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace, Sunday morning, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf) [KEVIN WOLF  |  AP]
    The report did not find evidence for the most sensational of President Donald Trump’s claims, including that he had been wiretapped and illegally spied on.
  9. Trapped flower vendors are pulled out from a collapsed wall following an earthquake that struck Padada, Davao del Sur province, southern Philippines on Sunday. A strong quake jolted the southern Philippines on Sunday, causing a three-story building to collapse and prompting people to rush out of shopping malls, houses and other buildings in panic, officials said. (AP Photo/John Angelo Jomao-as) [JOHN ANGELO JOMAO-AS  |  AP]
    A child was killed when a wall of her house tumbled down as the ground shook and hit her in the head, officials said.
  10. This image made from undated video provided by Zola shows a scene of its advertisement. Under pressure from a conservative advocacy group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled the ads for wedding-planning website Zola that featured same-sex couples, including two brides kissing. The family-friendly network, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction, a spokesperson said in an interview on Saturday. (Zola via AP) [AP]
    The ad featured two brides kissing at the altar.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement