Tamburo pleads guilty to murdering father
Stephen J. Tamburo III pled guilty last Friday to first degree murder of his father at their Shanghai Road home two years ago.
The plea came just four days before Tamburo, 40, was to go on trial for shooting his father, concealing the body, and forging and passing checks on his father’s account.
The plea turned into a complicated legal proceeding before Judge Gina Groh, who was in Berkeley County Circuit Court that morning.
In return for the guilty plea to the murder charge, Tamburo was to receive a life sentence with mercy, meaning he would be eligible for probation in 15 years.
But when Judge Groh was told that Tamburo intended to enter an Alford guilty plea, she questioned the plea arrangement.
Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not really admit guilt, but simply agrees that the evidence against him is sufficient to convince a jury that he is guilty. He is generally not required to tell the court what he did, as with other guilty pleas.
The judge asked how she could sentence Tamburo to life “with mercy” if Tamburo didn’t describe what happened and take responsibility for his actions.
Judge Groh said it was “frightening” for the public to see a cool, polite, calm individual who killed his own father and showed no apparent remorse.
Cutting short the explanations of Public Defender Deborah Lawson, Judge Groh asked, “Why can’t he just cut to the chase and tell me what he did and accept responsibility?”
After conferring with his lawyer, Tamburo began telling an involved story of the events of the weekend that ended with the murder.
Tamburo said he returned to Morgan County on December 5, 2008 from his job as a veterinary technician in Virginia. He expected to take his father, a truck driver, to dinner since it was his father’s birthday.
Instead, the two men began arguing over money. Tamburo said he put his paychecks in his father’s bank account because he did not handle money well.
The elder Tamburo had been drinking, and the younger Tamburo admitted to being addicted to pain medications.
As the argument escalated, father began breaking things and the fight got so loud that neighbors came to see if everything was alright, Tamburo said.
Tamburo decided to leave, but his father wouldn’t let him and shot at him while he was putting things in his pickup truck, Tamburo said.
He said he could only finish getting his stuff after a neighbor — Donovan Carl “Donnie” Younker – produced a rifle.
For the next two days, Tamburo stayed at Younker’s house. He described a number of calls and run-ins with his father during this time.
Mostly the disputes were over their dogs which were running in the road. Tamburo said he put the dogs inside the gate several times, but they got out again. They also argued over ownership of the dogs, he said.
Tamburo claimed to hear gunshots when he was around his father’s home and said his father continued drinking throughout the weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, December 7, the dogs were out again. Armed with a gun, Tamburo went to his father’s residence to get more of his things.
His father ordered him off the property, picked up a gun and told him he wouldn’t leave alive, Tamburo said.
“He said if I didn’t stop acting like my mother, he was going to kill me,” Tamburo said.
Tamburo also said that his father told him, “You don’t have the balls to do anything with that gun.”
He said his father had been bullying him and threatening to shoot him for years.
As the elder Tamburo walked toward him, gun in hand, the younger Tamburo said that he was thinking, “I had suffered enough at the hands of my father.”
And he shot him.
“Immediately after it happened, I was shocked and horrified. I think if I had dialed 911, things could have been different, but I didn’t,” Tamburo said. “I made a lot of horrible decisions after that.”
Those decisions included rolling up the body in a rug and dumping it in Sleepy Creek Public Hunting.
Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin said the state could show that Tamburo actually shot his father four times, both front and back, and bought new rugs to cover up the flooring before fleeing to Florida. He also told various stories about what had happened to his father.
Public Defender Lawson told the judge, “If this goes to trial, it is going to be a long and messy trial.” She suggested there was no assurance how a jury might see it.
Two sisters and a niece of the victim were in the courtroom and said they agreed with the plea.
In the end, Judge Groh accepted the Alford guilty plea to first degree murder.
Felony charges of concealing the body and forging and passing checks were dismissed, as were separate charges accusing Tamburo of forging prescriptions that fall.
Judge Groh ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set the actual sentencing for Monday, February 7, in Morgan County Circuit Court.
The next day, Donnie Younker is set for trial here on charges that he helped Tamburo conceal the body.