FARMINGTON — A Massachusetts man on trial for the murder of 81-year-old Grace Burton in her Farmington apartment last year told detectives in an interview in November that he was sorry for what had happened, but didn’t say how or why he committed the crime.

Juan Contreras, 27, of Waltham, Mass., said he had smoked some marijuana laced with what he called “rock” the night Burton was killed then blacked out.

“Somebody put some kind of white powdery stuff in it,” Contreras told police in the interview played in the courtroom Tuesday on the second day of his trial. “I think I just lost my mind or something.”

He acknowledged being inside Burton’s apartment June 21, 2011, but never described how or why the woman was stabbed 35 times, She died hours later in a Lewiston hospital.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said in the audio tape played in Franklin County Superior Court. “I still don’t think it’s real.”

Contreras pleaded not guilty in January to the murder. He waived his right to a jury trial.

In the 90-minute interview with Contreras in November, state police detectives Abbe Chabot and Randall Keaten pressed Contreras for reasons for the attack on Burton, who was asleep in her living room recliner when she was assaulted.

“You’ve been carrying this in your soul for a long time, am I right?” Chabot asked.

“Yes,” Contreras answered.

Contreras told the detectives during the November interview that he suffered from a sleep disorder and memory loss. He said he experienced blackouts.

Keaten suggested to Contreras in the taped interview that the defendant was angry because of local racism against him as a native of Guatemala, lacked a job and believed his wife was cheating on him.

Each time, Contreras mumbled, not answering the direct questions.

Court-appointed defense lawyer David Sanders said the investigators were trying to establish a motive to strengthen their case, when Contreras would not offer one and the crime scene did not reveal one. None of Burton’s valuables or prescription drugs had been taken or touched.

Under cross examination, Chabot said that Contreras repeated 22 times that he didn’t know why he had been in the apartment or why Burton was killed.

“You both agree to something here,” Sanders told Chabot. “You both don’t know why he did it.”

Chabot later acknowledged that she could not rule out robbery as a motive, but said she still did not have answers why the murder was committed.

In her testimony Tuesday, Contreras’ mother, Gilma Boyd, now of Weymouth, Mass., said he son began drinking and smoking marijuana more heavily six years ago when his step-father died of a drug overdose in Massachusetts.

Boyd, 50, said her son was not violent and “treated people nice.” She said she didn’t think he was capable of killing anyone.

She said her son was born in Guatemala, and she entered the United States illegally because of civil unrest and a bad economy there when Contreras was 2 years old. Since then she has secured legal immigration papers, she said.

Under cross examination from Sanders, Boyd said her son had been in several automobile accidents and suffered from headaches.

He married a Maine woman and moved to Farmington, but was unable to find work and continued drinking, sometimes heavily, his mother testified.

Prosecutors say Contreras cut a hole in the screen of an unlocked window to gain access to Burton’s apartment.

Police investigators said they have linked Contreras to the scene by matching his DNA to a trail of blood from the rear window of Burton’s apartment. Contreras voluntarily gave a DNA sample to investigators, who collected samples from hundreds of men with ties to the area.

Although badly injured Burton managed to call police and describe her attacker. She died later that morning at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

Farmington police Sgt. Michael Adcock, who met Contreras when at a bike accident a month after Burton’s murder, became suspicious after Contreras moved back to Massachusetts from the mobile home park on Pillsbury Lane near the apartment where Burton was killed.

The murder charge carries a 25 years-to-life sentence.

The trial continues today.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@mainetoday.com