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Man charged with first-degree murder in Bayfield stabbing faces competency hearing

Damitre Burch was a juvenile when arrested for the crime
A memorial for 21-year-old Jadah Willmett, in August 2021. Willmett was stabbed to death while working as a clerk at the Speedway convenience located on Buck Highway (County Road 521) in Bayfield. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
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The man accused of killing a 21-year-old Speedway clerk in Bayfield in August 2021 faces a competency hearing in Durango’s 6th Judicial District Court on Nov. 18.

Suspect Damitre Burch was 17 years old when he was arrested at the scene – the Speedway on Buck Highway (County Road 521).

Burch, a Southern Ute Tribal member, was deemed incompetent to stand trial at his court appearance shortly after his arrest. He is now 18 and being held at the La Plata County Jail pending a second competency hearing.

Competency is determined based on whether the defendant can assist his or her attorney in the defense, and is able to understand and participate in the proceedings in a meaningful way.

Burch faces a first-degree murder charge if found competent. He will be charged as an adult.

“We are trying him as an adult because of his advanced age and the nature of the crime,” said 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne. “So even though he was a juvenile at the time, we are trying him as an adult.”

When a defendant is deemed incompetent, all the proceedings in the case are “stayed” until competency is restored.

“It takes a long time, in part because the mental health services for the state of Colorado are pretty overwhelmed at this point,” Champagne said.

According to an arrest affidavit, it was just past 1:30 a.m. Aug. 2, 2021, when a call from La Plata County dispatch came over the radio that a “holdup alarm” had been triggered at the Bayfield Speedway on Buck Highway.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Robert Howell was parked in a dirt pullout just 50 yards from the front door of the convenience store working on a report. It was warm for that hour, 61 degrees, so Howell had his windows down. He hadn’t heard anything. And he hadn’t seen anyone pull into the Speedway in the 15 minutes he’d been parked at the pull out.

When the call came, Howell looked up and saw someone dressed in all black with a black hat exiting the front door of the Speedway. He jumped on the accelerator and sped into the lot where he got out of his cruiser and ordered the suspect to raise his hands and move against the wall of the Speedway. The suspect, later identified as 17-year-old Burch, complied with the order as other officers began to arrive at the scene.

Bayfield Marshal Rashaan Mitchell ordered Burch to the ground while Howell and fellow Trooper Brad Spargur entered the Speedway and announced themselves. There was no response.

Spargur moved to the front counter. That’s when he saw the clerk, later identified as Jadah Willmett, lying behind the counter in a pool of blood gasping for air. The troopers rendered aid and cleared the building until EMS arrived. No one else was found. Only later would the troopers learn that Willmett, who had turned 21 less than three weeks earlier, died at the scene.

At the time of his arrest, Burch was reportedly wearing black boots, jacket, stocking cap and gloves, along with a black bandanna with a white design that covered his face. And he was holding a plastic bag.

The gloves Burch was wearing were covered in dried blood. And there was a “large amount” of dried blood on his boots. When searched, a butterfly knife with blood on the blade was discovered in a pocket. Inside the plastic bag were numerous unopened boxes of Juul electronic cigarettes and an unopened pair of black gloves.

Surveillance footage reviewed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation indicates Burch entered the Speedway at 1:24 a.m. He placed some items on the counter. At 1:28 a.m., he appeared to be looking at hats near the register. At 1:30 a.m., Burch walked behind the counter and approached the clerk. It then appeared that Burch’s left arm went around the clerk’s neck, while the right hand was used to “possibly stab her in the neck” with an unknown object. The clerk fell to the floor and continued to struggle while Burch continued to punch or stab her two or three more times.

Burch then tried unsuccessfully to open the register before going behind the counter and out of view of the security camera. When Burch came back into view, he was carrying a plastic bag. He then “walked out of the store with no urgency,” according to the affidavit.

gjaros@durangoherald.com



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