FARMINGTON — Seeing the man accused of killing their 81-year-old mother appear in court Monday brought little comfort to the children of Grace Burton, who was fatally stabbed in June.

“I wish it would take all the pain away that we’ve all been going through, but it hasn’t, because nothing will bring back our mother,” said Julie Shaw, Burton’s only daughter.

Shaw, along with other family members and friends, reacted to their first glimpse of Juan A. Contreras, 27, of 92 Chester Lane, Waltham, Mass., who faces a murder charge in connection with Burton’s death.

Contreras, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and black bulletproof vest, made a brief initial appearance Monday in Franklin County Superior Court after being arrested in Massachusetts last week. He is to be held without bail until future court proceedings set for early next year.

Robert Butterfield, one of Burton’s five sons, stood beside Shaw outside the courthouse along with other family members and friends. They described Burton as a strong, compassionate woman who survived a lengthy battle with cancer, fighting the disease so she could be with her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“It’s going to be a big empty hole in our hearts, and it’s always going to be there,” Shaw said of her mother’s death.

She said she doesn’t understand why someone “had to kill a defenseless old woman who had nothing but love in her heart for everybody,” she said. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

Butterfield told reporters he wouldn’t be satisfied until his mother’s killer is behind bars for the rest of his life.

He also praised law enforcement for sticking with the investigation, admitting that as the months passed without an arrest, he had almost given up hope that one would be made in his mother’s killing.

A local police officer’s hunch, DNA evidence and a detailed description Burton was able to give of her attacker before she died led to the arrest Thursday of Contreras, police said.

Butterfield said family and friends of Burton raised $16,000 to offer as a reward to help find her killer. The family plans to donate that money to the Maine Cancer Association in memory of Burton, he said.

Butterfield also singled out the local police officer, Sgt. Michael Adcock, for making the breakthrough in the case.

“I thank him from the bottom of my heart, my whole family does,” Butterfield said.

Contreras crashed his bicycle on a road in Farmington a month after Burton’s death, according to a sworn police affidavit supporting the arrest.

Adcock, who was the officer on the scene at the crash, discovered Contreras was living in a trailer park on Pillsbury Lane, which is off Fairbanks Road and near the Margaret Chase Smith Apartments, where Burton was killed, the affidavit states.

Adcock followed up leads and became suspicious after Contreras disappeared from town several weeks after the slaying, passing on the hunch to state police detectives, the affidavit states. The arrest was made after DNA samples taken from Contreras provided a match to samples taken at the crime scene, police said.

Police believe Burton’s killer cut a screen and entered through an unlocked window of Burton’s first-floor apartment on June 21. The attacker, who stabbed Burton 35 times, left a trail of blood outside the apartment and near the window, the affidavit states.

During the investigation, police interviewed Contreras’ wife, Amanda Contreras. She told police that the night of the homicide she asked Juan Contreras about cuts he had on his hand, the affidavit states.

Juan Contreras was heavily intoxicated that night and told her that he cut his hand whittling wood. The morning after the slaying she asked him about the homicide and he refused to answer, the affidavit states.

Amanda Contreras also told police that Juan Contreras ran to a back bedroom to avoid investigators who were gathering DNA samples in her neighborhood in the weeks after the slaying, the affidavit states. She said she is no longer with Juan Contreras and has had no contact with him since he moved to Massachusetts.

Investigators took several hundred DNA samples from men with ties to the Farmington area. Contreras voluntarily submitted a DNA sample last week, police said.

Burton, who called 911 after the attack, gave police a detailed description of the attacker, describing him as a medium-sized man with a thin mustache. She was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she died later that morning

During the hearing Monday, Franklin County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ordered that Juan Contreras undergo a forensic evaluation, a psychological review to determine a defendant’s mental and emotional condition, she said.

He will be held without bail until a Franklin County grand jury will review the case in January, she said. A grand jury does not consider guilt and reviews a case to determine whether or not to bring charges.

David Sanders, Contreras’ court-appointed attorney, told Murphy he planned to get an independent psychological review.

A trial would likely not proceed until November next year, and the murder charge has a minimum sentence of 25 years to life, Murphy said.

Contreras said yes twice to acknowledge he understood the court’s instructions before being led from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies, with about 20 family members and friends of Burton looking on in silence.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is prosecuting the case, did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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