Christmas Eve case stayed cold until 2010, when DNA from recent arrest was matched
A life of crime likely ended Friday as a Spokane judge sentenced a man to 17 years in prison for the brutal beating, rape and slaying of a woman on Christmas Eve 1986 that got solved only through advances in technology.
Gary L. Trimble, 63, offered the family of Dorothy E. Burdette no explanation as to why he attacked the 62-year-old woman, rolled her in a blanket and left her to the December elements under the Interstate 90 overpass near High Bridge Park.
“The DNA caught me,” Trimble said in a soft, almost inaudible voice. “I don’t remember the crime. I’ve seen the results.”
Trimble pleaded guilty as part of an Alford plea to the reduced charge of second-degree murder. As part of that plea, Trimble doesn’t necessarily agree with the evidence against him but pleads guilty to take advantage of the plea agreement.
Defense attorney Kari Reardon and Deputy Prosecutor Rachel Sterett agreed to recommend a sentence of 15 years, but Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor instead sentenced Trimble to just over 17 years in prison with credit for 574 days already served.
“At this point in your life,” O’Connor told Trimble, “all we can do is lock you up.” Prison “is where you need to be.”
Burdette’s daughter, Linda Iwanow, said soon after the killing the family gave up the thought of ever seeing the man who ripped Burdette out of their lives.
“It was terrible, especially the 24 years of not knowing,” Iwanow said. “I can’t even put it into words.”
Burdette’s body was discovered Dec. 26, 1986. Witnesses last saw Burdette alive two days earlier in the Mayfair Café in downtown Spokane.
One woman told police that she overheard a man “tell Burdette that she looked like his mother and offered to buy her a drink,” according to court records. A short time later, Burdette left with the man.
Detectives found a woman badly bruised and showing signs she had been raped. Iwanow said her mother was beaten so badly that investigators found some of her knocked-out teeth in another location.
“I cannot bear to think about the fear she must have felt, her cries pleading and begging for help left unanswered, as she battled for her last breath,” granddaughter Jennifer Martens told the court.
Based on witness descriptions, detectives prepared an artist’s rendering of the suspect seen with Burdette. Spokane police Detective Kip Hollenbeck said in court records that he obtained photographs of Trimble from the mid-1980s and he bore a striking resemblance to the drawing.
At the time, Trimble was a transient, having been convicted of robbery in 1966. Trimble also was convicted of robbery in 1989.
But it wasn’t until October 2010 when his DNA was entered into the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, for a charge in Lincoln, Mont., that investigators finally got a match to semen samples from the 1986 Burdette crime scene.
Investigators also submitted Trimble’s DNA profile to three other unsolved homicides from the same time period. Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said no matches to Trimble were found.
On Friday, family members filled half the courtroom to finally hear Trimble take responsibility for their quarter-century of pain.
“Although I was 7 years old in 1986, I have vivid memories of my grandmother’s murder, which remained unsolved for 24 years,” Martens said. “I remember going with my family to her funeral and helping clean out her apartment, placing 62 years of memories in boxes.”
As a result of the timing of the crime, “a gloom has always overshadowed our Christmas holidays, plagued by memories of her murder,” Martens said.
Reardon said her client was a “blackout” drunk and likely had been drinking on the day of the killing. “He didn’t even recognize the details described by detectives,” she said. “It has been horrifying to him.”
Iwanow said her mother stood 5-foot-2, weighed about 100 pounds and “couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag.”
“However, I guarantee on that night my mother fought like hell with everything she had in a futile attempt to save her life,” she said. “I believe Mr. Trimble’s family has been shattered, just as ours has been. There were no winners here today.”
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