Murderer blames victim, gets 48-year max sentence

Kenneth Wright

In a rambling 10-minute speech, a Rifle man who pleaded guilty in the beating death of a De Beque rancher told a judge he was sorry before repeatedly blaming the victim.

“This man couldn’t keep his mouth shut,” 44-year-old Kenneth Wright said, periodically weeping during his sentencing hearing Friday morning.

Parts of the speech drew audible gasps from the numerous family members in attendance for slain 52-year-old Steven Burdick, who, according to Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle, was beaten about the head “at least” 14 times with the wooden handle of a sledgehammer in his home Aug. 2, 2009.

Wright interrupted District Judge Valerie Robison as the judge started to pronounce her sentence.

“So, it’s OK for him (Burdick) to just blurt out about screwing my wife and laughing about it?,” Wright asked.

Robison sentenced Wright to 48 years in prison, which was the maximum term available to the judge under a plea agreement struck in June. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss all charges, including first-degree murder, in exchange for Wright’s guilty plea to a lone count of second-degree murder.

Wright admitted to investigators he hit Burdick multiple times in the head “baseball style,” with a wooden handle, saying he “snapped” after several comments Burdick allegedly made about Wright’s wife, according to an arrest affidavit. Wright, at the time serving probation, had lived with Burdick working as a hired hand and performing odd jobs at Burdick’s ranch.

Wright maintains he doesn’t remember how many times he struck Wright.

Burdick was initially struck from behind as he sat in a chair, collapsing to the floor before Wright continued to strike him, Tuttle said. An autopsy showed most of the blows were to the back of Burdick’s head, while the prosecutor said a coroner’s assessment of 14 blunt-force injuries was “conservative.”

“This was as brutal a killing as we’ve seen,” Tuttle said.

In an pre-sentence interview with authorities, Wright said that Burdick told him he was “only joking,” after the first blow was delivered.

Tuttle seized on other statements allegedly made by Wright during pre-sentence interviews: Wright’s admission he had locked the door of Burdick’s home when Wright left after the assault, which Wright characterized as an “unfortunate mistake.”

“He has no real sense of this murder or appreciation for it,” Tuttle told the judge.


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