A convicted sex offender from Wakefield who had been accused of molesting 13 infants and toddlers died Friday night of injuries he suffered during a suicide attempt earlier in the day at the Middlesex County Jail in Cambridge.
John Burbine, who had been held without bail since 2012, died at Massachusetts General Hospital about 10 hours after he was found hanging by a sheet in his cell, his lawyer said.
Burbine, 50, had no pulse when corrections officers cut him down about 8 a.m. during a scheduled check every half-hour, said his lawyer, William Barabino. Burbine briefly regained a pulse after being treated at the jail, but lost it intermittently during hours of frantic efforts to keep him alive in the intensive care unit at the hospital, said Barabino, who was with Burbine when he died at 6:26 p.m.
Burbine’s wife, Marian, who also is charged in the case, was released from house arrest to visit her husband and was present when he died. Burbine never regained consciousness, Barabino said.
Burbine, who was convicted of indecent assault against a child in 1989, is accused of raping and sexually abusing 13 children while his wife ran Waterfall Education Center, an unlicensed child-care business in Wakefield. Most of the assaults, which allegedly occurred from 2010 to 2012 and included one on an 8-day-old, took place in the victims’ homes, authorities said.
Burbine’s trial was scheduled to start May 1, Barabino said.
He said his client had been watched closely by guards since he was jailed. “Whatever he did, he did it at an opportune time when they weren’t looking,” the lawyer said.
The death has been referred to State Police for investigation, said Kevin Maccioli, spokesman for Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian. Barabino said he will let that investigation run its course to determine if proper protocol was followed by correction staff.
“I don’t know what the conditions were that he was able to do this, but John was a smart guy and had plenty of time on his hands,” Barabino said. “He was already a slightly anxious guy, and he had never been in jail before. Based on the strong case against him, I think maybe the stress just increased.”
The lawyer said he did not know if Burbine had been held in a single-person cell, but the director of a prisoners advocacy group said Burbine would probably have been placed in one of the jail’s few segregated units.
Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, described the single-
person units as “cramped and isolated.” Older jails such as the Cambridge county facility often are not “suicide proof” with fixtures such as collapsible wall-hooks, Walker said.
Maccioli would not comment on the condition of the cells.
Fewer than 230 pretrial detainees are being held at the jail, which sits atop a nearly empty 22-story building that once housed the county courthouse. The tower has been sold to a private developer, and many detainees have been transferred to expanded facilities in Billerica.
Walker said the Middlesex sheriff’s department takes suicide prevention seriously. “Someone facing those charges is someone I would be concerned about, and I’m sure they were,” Walker said.
In August 2010, Philip Markoff, accused of being the “Craigslist killer,” committed suicide in the Nashua Street Jail in Boston while awaiting trial on charges he killed Julissa Brisman in Boston at the Marriott Copley Place.
John and Marian Burbine pleaded not guilty to all charges, which originated with a complaint in July 2012 involving a 2-year-old under their care. While investigating that complaint, Middlesex County authorities obtained a search warrant and allegedly found hundreds of videos and images of sexual assaults on John Burbine’s home computer.
In multiple videos, Burbine “can be heard calling the children by name and making comments of a sexual nature to them during the course of the assaults,” prosecutors have said. The 2-year-old involved in the initial complaint “began exhibiting sexualized behavior” within weeks of being placed under Burbine’s care, according to court records.
Those documents state that parents would hire Marian Burbine to look after their children, but that John Burbine quickly assumed responsibility in some cases by telling the parents that his wife was ill.
In one case, a family with three young children contacted the Burbines through a website for mothers of twins. Marian Burbine brought her husband to the interview, but assured the family that “she alone would care for” their infant daughters and preschool son, according to court documents.
Marian Burbine told the parents that her husband would be able to substitute during emergencies. However, on the first night of care, John Burbine showed up and offered “the excuse that his wife was sick,” authorities said.
He provided overnight care for the three children for several weeks and sexually assaulted all of them, prosecutors said.
Authorities have not accused Marian Burbine of being aware of her husband’s alleged abuse from 2010 to 2012, but they suggest in court documents that she misled parents into allowing her husband to take her place.
Court records indicate that she knew her husband had been convicted of indecent assault and battery against a child in 1989, for which he was labeled a Level 1 sex offender, the category for people considered least likely to reoffend.
The documents also indicate that she was aware he had been investigated by the state Department of Children and Families on suspicion of sexually abusing young boys in 2005 and 2009.
Prosecutors did not bring charges in those cases.
John Burbine, through his attorney, had offered to plead guilty and have himself castrated in return for a reduced prison sentence. However, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan rejected the request.
Burbine had been charged in a separate pending case in Essex County with one count of rape of a child and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14.
Those alleged assaults occurred between 1990 and 1994, when Burbine was providing child care, according to Essex County prosecutors.
The earliest assault allegedly occurred when the victim was 5, authorities said.