BOSTON, Feb. 16, 2006 – A longtime suspect in the 1981 homicide of Mary Theresa “Terry” Burhoe in Charlestown pled guilty to manslaughter today and was sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed under law, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced.PATRICK JOHN DURHAM, 43 (D.O.B. 11/12/62), of Charlestown admitted that he was present when Burhoe, 14, was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of July 12, 1981. Burhoe’s body was discovered later that afternoon in a field near the Mystic River, about a half a mile from where she was last seen socializing with Durham and others. He was sentenced to a term of 19-20 years in state prison, a term recommended by prosecutors. Twenty years is the highest sentence the law allows for manslaughter.
During today’s hearing, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford heard a summary of the facts that the Commonwealth was prepared to prove: that Durham and Burhoe were among a group that was socializing at Carney Court in Charlestown in the hours preceding Burhoe’s death; that Durham threatened Burhoe with a knife at some point that evening; that Durham and Burhoe left Carney Court some hours later; and that nearly two decades after the crime, a forensic expert identified Durham’s DNA in a bloodstain left on Burhoe’s jeans.
Following the recitation of those facts, Botsford asked Durham if he agreed with those statements. “Yes, I do,” he responded.
Burhoe’s body was found in high grass at the corner of a field by the Little Mystic Channel, in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge. Prosecutors believe she was killed elsewhere and dumped there.
Prosecutors agreed to accept Durham’s plea to manslaughter after reviewing the provable evidence in its totality, assessing both the strengths of the case and the challenges inherent in prosecuting a 25-year-old case, and weighing those against their desire to ensure a conviction that would achieve some justice for the Burhoe family.
In sentencing Durham, Botsford acknowledged that she exceeded the Superior Court sentencing guidelines for manslaughter, giving the maximum sentence allowed under the law, to reflect the brutal nature of the crime. “This was a terrible crime, unquestionably,” she said.
Botsford also ordered that Durham receive credit for the six years he spent behind bars while awaiting his trial, which had been scheduled to begin early next month. Prosecutors had asked that Durham not get credit for most of that time, noting that until 2005 he was serving an 10-year sentence for an unrelated drug conviction.
Had the case gone to trial, Assistant District Attorney David E. Meier would have introduced evidence showing that Durham, then 18, was a knowing and willing participant in the chain of events that resulted in Burhoe’s homicide. Medical experts who would have testified that Durham, in the days following Burhoe’s stabbing, had lacerations on his fingers and human bite marks on his leg, and Boston police criminalists would have testified that DNA evidence recovered from Burhoe’s bloodstained pants matched Durham’s DNA profile.
Prior to sentencing Durham, Botsford heard victim impact statements by members of Burhoe’s family. Burhoe’s sister, Tina Marie Getchell, read from “Tears for Terry” – a poem that her mother wrote in 1996 about the pain of losing her daughter. “If only tears could bring her back,” Getchell read, “She would be here right now.”
Conley hailed the investigators who built the case against Durham and offered his thoughts for Burhoe’s family. “I only hope that today’s events bring some degree of finality and sense of justice to the loss they will endure for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Durham was first charged in connection with Burhoe’s death in 1981, when he was arraigned for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for allegedly threatening Burhoe with a knife earlier on the night she was killed. Those charges were later dismissed, and investigators did not establish probable cause to charge Durham with Burhoe’s homicide until 2000, after he was implicated by the advanced DNA tests that had not been available to prosecutors at the time of the killing.
He has been held without bail on the homicide charge since that time.