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 family and friends, watched as 27-year-old Juan A. Contreras, of Waltham, Mass., made a brief initial appearance Monday in Franklin County Superior Court. Contreras, who faces a murder charge in connection with Burton’s death, was arrested Thursday in Massachusetts.

He was ordered held without bail until court proceedings set for early next year.

Robert Butterfield, one of Burton’s five sons, stood with Shaw and supporters outside the courthouse. They described Burton as a strong, compassionate woman who survived a lengthy battle with cancer.

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

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 said he wouldn’t be satisfied until whoever killed his mother 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 gave of her attacker before she died led police to Contreras.

According to an affidavit, Contreras crashed his bicycle on a road in Farmington a month after Burton’s death, and Sgt. Michael Adcock, the officer on the scene, discovered that Contreras was living in a trailer park near Burton’s apartment.

Adcock became suspicious after Contreras later disappeared from town, and passed on his hunch to state police detectives. 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 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 them she asked her husband about cuts on his hand the night of the homicide. He was heavily intoxicated that night and told her that he cut his hand whittling wood. The next day, she asked him about the homicide and he refused to answer, according to the affidavit.

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 hundreds of DNA samples from men with ties to the Farmington area. Contreras voluntarily gave a DNA sample last week.

Burton called 911 and described her attacker to police 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 psychological review to determine his mental and emotional condition.

A Franklin County grand jury will review the case in January, she said.

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, as 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.

A $16,000 reward raised to find her killer will now be donated to the Maine Cancer Association in her memory, Butterfield said.

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be contacted at 861-9287 or at: [email protected]