A Stockton Springs man implicated in the 1984 cold case homicide of 63-year-old Dorothea Burke is expected to plead guilty to manslaughter on Friday.
Kirt Damon Sr., 58, was charged with murder after a Waldo County grand jury indicted him in September 2020. He pleaded not guilty to that charge. It’s unclear exactly what evidence connected Damon with Burke’s killing as it’s not part of the public case file, but police had interviewed him as part of the murder investigation several times over the past 36 years, according to court documents.
Burke, who lived in Stockton Springs, attended a family wedding on June 23, 1984. Then the 63-year-old went to Priscilla’s, a Bucksport bar that is now Glenn’s Place. That’s the last time she was seen alive, according to the website for the Maine State Police’s Unsolved Homicide Unit.
Five days later, her body was found by construction workers in a clump of tall grass at the intersection of Muskrat and Meadow roads in Stockton Springs. She had been bludgeoned to death.
Police investigated, but the case wasn’t solved and no arrests were made. Two of Burke’s nieces told Fox 22 Bangor in 2019 that family members had their own suspicions. A man at the wedding was causing problems and had been “in a fighting mood,” Roxanne Smith told the news station.
After Burke’s murder, they told police about the man but police told them they needed more concrete evidence before they could do anything. Burke’s nieces said they hoped that with advancing technology, there was a chance their aunt’s murder could be solved.
“We can always hope,” her niece, Pat Eaton, said in 2019.
It remained one of the state’s unsolved mysteries for nearly 40 years, even though investigators had gathered substantial forensic evidence from the crime scene, including fibers, hairs, DNA and more, according to a motion filed in April 2021 by Damon’s attorney, Jeremy Pratt of Camden.
Although it’s unclear how Damon was connected to the murder, the court file shows a procedural battle that’s been underway since his 2020 arrest.
Much of it had to do with the handling of evidence in the case at the Maine State Crime Lab, specifically concerning a former lab employee named Todd Settlemire, who was found to be a “shedder” of DNA, meaning he’s more apt than others to leave his DNA material behind, according to court documents.
In 2005, Settlemire had been part of the chain of custody of certain evidence pertaining to Burke’s death, including DNA, hairs, slides of fiber and debris and more. He resigned from the crime lab in 2012 after he allegedly lied to his superiors, causing the state to alert courts that evidence provided by the worker could require examinations of his credibility.
That caused the state to alert courts in at least three criminal cases that evidence provided by Settlemire may have to be disclosed to defense attorneys. Damon’s attorney asked the judge to compel the state to provide Settlemire’s personnel file and also to disclose records pertaining to the crime lab’s professional accreditation during the time that Settlemire worked there, which prosecutors opposed.
In June, Murray ordered state prosecutors to produce Settlemire’s personnel file for the judge to review in private, so he could determine if any portions of the file needed to be disclosed to Damon’s defense team. It wasn’t clear from the file exactly what happened after that, but the case did seem to move past the procedural debates.
Pratt also asked the court to dismiss the case based on “the state’s extreme pre-indictment delay,” which he said violated his client’s due process rights and rights to a fair trial. For example, some of the potential witnesses who would have been called to testify have died since Burke’s murder, including his mother, who would have provided alibi information, according to Damon’s defense team.
On Tuesday, Pratt declined to comment about the case, other than to confirm his client was scheduled to change his plea to guilty of manslaughter at a hearing at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast on Friday.
Damon had no criminal history in Maine at the time of Burke’s murder in 1984. However, he was convicted in 1990 of aggravated assault, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison with all but one year suspended. In 2006, he was also convicted of operating under the influence. The next year, he was convicted of violating a protection order.
In 2008, Damon was himself an assault victim when he was attacked outside his home by a group of men who hit him with clubs and iron pipes and stomped on him when he was on the ground.
The melee apparently stemmed from a long-running feud between the Damons and the Pomeroys, families who were related to each other and had been fighting for a quarter century, according to BDN archives. A Searsport man was charged with elevated aggravated assault after the attack on Damon.