On Saturday, Feb. 22, 1997, Kathryn Burton killed her newborn son.
While her two young children played and her step-father slept, Burton delivered a healthy, 9-pound baby boy. Moments later, just as the boy was struggling to breathe and show signs of life, the mother crushed her baby’s skull, likely hitting it against the side of the bathtub he was born in, though she later told a witness she hit the child with a shovel.
Burton hid the lifeless boy, posthumously named William Lester Burton, under a sink while she dug a hole in the backyard of her New Dover home. There, she dumped the body.
In January, Burton comes up for parole. Monday, Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips wrote a letter to the State Parole board, asking members to reject her request.
“Kathryn Burton asks for release so that she can resume her life. William never had a chance at life, his mother took that chance away when she fractured his skull. There is only the State to speak for William, who would now be a 22-year old man,” Phillips wrote in a letter to the State Parole Board. “…She never gave her baby a chance at life. I respectfully ask that Kathryn Burton remain in prison.”
In the Spring of 1996, Burton, who had just an eighth-grade education, had an affair with Roger Long. Burton was just 23 at the time. Long, a married neighbor, was 52.
Though Long suspected, Burton denied her pregnancy and hid it from her family.
“Burton told detectives that she didn’t have an abortion because she didn’t believe in them,” Phillips said, “She said her plan was to put the child up for adoption.”
Phillips said he believes killing her baby was Burton’s plan all along, based on conversations she had with witnesses.
“Burton never called 911, nor did she bother to wake her sleeping step-father to ask for his help,” Phillips wrote. “She had hidden her pregnancy, and the life of this child meant less to her than her family finding out that she carried a married neighbor’s child.”
Burton said that after the birth, she had one of her children clean up the blood.
Burton twice went to the hospital, at that time known as Union County Memorial Hospital. While she repeatedly denied it, a gynecological exam told doctors that Burton had recently given birth to a near full-term baby. Medical authorities contacted law enforcement officials.
On Feb. 27, 1997, authorities from the Union County Sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s office and the Ohio Department of Criminal Investigation executed a search warrant at the woman’s home on School Street in New Dover.
Investigators found a small, rundown home Burton shared with her children and several other family members and animals. They found rotting food, toilets that didn’t work and animal feces crusting furniture and carpets. They found blood trace evidence in the bathroom. What they didn’t find, was the baby.
Burton repeatedly lied about her crime, but eventually told investigators where she had buried her son. When the make-shift grave was dug up, however, it was empty.
“Burton had lied again,” Phillips wrote.
Burton eventually admitted that she sent Long a cryptic message saying she had buried “a rabbit” in the backyard. She told detectives he would know what that meant.
Long was arrested and told authorities that when he learned of the investigation, he opened the grave, put the boy’s body in a bucket and moved it.
“Long led detectives, the coroner and me across the highway, behind a barn, through the woods and into a farmer’s field,” Phillips wrote. “Long stopped and showed detectives where he had buried the body.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 28, 1997, investigators found the body of William Lester Burton, face-down, naked, buried in the mud at the edge of a farm field near the rotting carcass of a coyote.
Phillips said he watched as William’s body was “pulled from the muck.” He said that image is burned in his memory.
At 1:40 a.m., Coroner Malcolm MacIvor briefly examined the baby and declared him to be dead.
Phillips said an autopsy revealed oxygen in the baby’s lungs and that, “the fatal blow occurred while the infant’s heart was beating and the child out of the mother’s womb.”
Days later, William Burton was buried properly in Mount Herman Cemetery.
Long was indicted and pleaded guilty to one count each of gross abuse of a corpse, obstructing justice and attempted tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, though he did not serve his full sentence. The baby’s father has since died.
Burton pleaded guilty to one count each of murder, gross abuse of a corpse and obstruction of justice. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors reduced the original charge from aggravated murder to murder. She was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
“At that time, she showed an utter lack of remorse,” Phillips said. “She was sorry, but I think sorry because she was prosecuted, not for what she’d done.”
He said she was “mostly sorry about her mother having to go through the criminal matter, not about killing her child.”
Burton comes up for parole in January, having served more than 22 years in prison.
“Is it enough time? That’s really for the parole board to decide.” Phillips said.
Burton’s two other children, a son and a daughter, both nearly 30, will also have the opportunity to help decide their mother’s fate.
“The victim had siblings and we are going to reach out to them, to the family, if we can, to get their input,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that because of Marsy’s Law, which was not in place when Burton has come up for parole in the past, he will contact the family of the victim. Passed in 2017, Marsy’s Law which gives crime victims specific rights in the criminal justice process.
Phillips said Burton “violated her sacred duty” as a mother.
“There is nothing so horrific as child murder. The life of a newborn child is sacred,” Phillips wrote. “A newborn baby is completely dependent upon his mother to protect and nurture him. It is the solemn responsibility of the mother to protect her newborn from harm.”
Persons wishing to submit a written statement concerning this hearing may send such statement to the Ohio Parole Board, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 4545 Fisher Road, Suite D, Columbus, OH 43228. Writers are asked to include the offender’s name and number, W41528, on any correspondence.
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