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White City man admits killing his ailing wife

A White City man surprised prosecutors in court Tuesday when, moments before his murder trial was to begin, he admitted he bludgeoned his disabled wife to death with a sledgehammer.

Ryan Scott Burke, 29, wept as he apologized to his wife's family, then was sentenced to life in prison by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White for the Nov. 2, 2006, murder of 24-year-old Candy Sheila Burke.

Candy Burke's body was discovered 10 days after her murder in the brush about 50 feet from an access road near Agate Lake.

Ryan Burke will be eligible for parole only after serving a minimum of 25 years, said Deputy District Attorney John Norton.

"This is one of the saddest cases I've ever been involved with," Norton said after the sentence. "(The children's) father is in jail for life and their mom was murdered."

Candy Burke suffered from Friedreich's ataxia, a disease that attacks the nervous system. Unable to walk without assistance and very weak, she was "completely dependant upon Mr. Burke," Norton said in court, holding up a photograph of a smiling Candy Burke.

Norton then told the court Ryan Burke dealt his wife up to six or eight blows to the back of each side of her head with the sledgehammer while she sat in a chair in their home.

"She was unable to fight back, and she did not fight back," said Norton.

Norton said Burke later told his family about the killing. Burke told his sister that he "continued to hit Ms. Burke because he didn't want the kids to hear her screaming," said Norton.

Just before the judge passed sentence, Burke apologized to his wife's family and expressed regret for what he had done to the couple's three sons, ages 2, 3 and 4 at the time of the murder.

"I am sorry that the kids have to go though this," said Burke.

After hearing a written statement from the victim's family read into the record, White sentenced Burke to life in prison.

Kirina Marshall, Candy Burke's mother, said late Tuesday afternoon the boys are in the process of being adopted by a member of her family who does not live in the area.

"I'm trying my hardest not to lose it," she said. "At least he had the decency to admit what he did. But I never will forgive him for what he did to her, or what he did to the children."

Burke took the children and fled his home in the 7900 block of White City's Ajax Avenue and headed to Nevada one day after concerned family members reported his wife missing, said Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan.

Candy Burke's brother, Steven Marshall, who also suffers from Friedreich's ataxia, used to visit his sister every day. One day in November 2006, he noticed her cell phone, wheelchair and car where there, but she was not.

Steven Marshall also noticed Ryan Burke was acting strangely, said Kirina Marshall.

"He was just acting weird," she said. "My son called me and said, 'Something is wrong. Something has happened to Candy.'"

Steven Marshall had surprised Burke "while he was still trying to clean up and cover his tracks," Fagan said.

Norton said in court Burke burned his clothes, his wife's chair and other evidence to cover up the crime.

Burke, who had lived in a transient camp near Agate Lake before meeting his future wife, once told Steven Marshall if he ever "needed to dispose of a body, he'd do it at Agate Lake," said Fagan.

At least one of the boys made statements that he had witnessed the attack, said Fagan, adding prosecutors likely would not have put the boy on trial.

Kirina Marshall said the boys are doing well and family is trying to heal from the trauma.

"The grandkids are doing great. That's the best we can hope for," she said.

Kirina Marshall said she wants other families to know the signs of domestic abuse. In order to isolate and control his wife, Ryan Burke kept her "on a short leash," she said. Burke had also fostered discord between her daughter and the rest of the family, she added.

"He liked to fight people and push them away. My daughter and I didn't speak. But three weeks before he killed her, she called me and apologized," she said.

Shortly before her death, Candy Burke also called other family members and cried, she said.

"She called her grandmother in Germany and said 'I will die soon,'" Kirina Marshall said.

Burke's admission came moments before his trial was slated to begin. Burke's decision to plead guilty, and his emotional display during the 14-minute court session, came as a surprise. But the result is the same as if Burke had been successfully prosecuted for murder, said Norton.

"There was no plea bargain," said Norton. "He pleaded guilty to murder. If we had gone to trial, that is the same sentence he would have gotten."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Ryan Burke admits to murder in Jackson County Circuit Court in this photo captured from a KTVL Channel 10 video.