HARRISBURG — More than eight months after he was convicted of trying to kidnap a former prosecutor while jailed in his estranged wife’s murder, Brian Burns, a former Saline County physician, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Burns was convicted in May of one count each of solicitation with intent to commit aggravated kidnapping, conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping and attempted aggravated kidnapping. Burns’ trial hinged on a series of clandestinely recorded conversations between Burns and his cellmate, Mark Stricklin, regarding the potential kidnapping of the late Saline County state's attorney, Mike Henshaw.
Before the sentencing hearing began, Burns' public defender, Nathan Roland, made a motion for a new trial, saying there were multiple instances during Burns' trial that he believed the court improperly ruled on. The motion was denied.
Morris vacated the two lesser charges of attempted kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap, and sentenced Burns based on the more serious offense of solicitation.
Roland said that an appeal in Burns' case will be filed and that Tuesday's motion for a new trial was made to assist in that process.
Burns will also serve three years of mandatory supervised release; he will get credit for time served.
In jailhouse tapes, Burns discusses cost, code words for kidnapping job
During the May trial, the jury listened to nearly three hours of jailhouse recordings, in which Stricklin and Burns hatch the kidnapping plan. Stricklin would call his guy — undercover detective David Blazier with the Saline County Sheriff’s Department, whom he later called “Mr. Murphy” — and pass along instructions given by Burns.
The Southern acquired the tapes through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"I need to know everything before I go talk to him," Stricklin tells Burns in a recording made on Aug. 2, 2016.
One key question was money — Stricklin tells Burns he needs to know what he's willing to pay for the job.
"Is $1,000 reasonable on something like this," Burns asks. He is heard in the recording multiple times saying that he had never done anything like this before.
The conversation also details the plan once the so-called Mr. Murphy confronts Henshaw.
"He just needs to know what you are wanting done to him," Stricklin says.
Burns reiterates many times in this first tape that he doesn’t want anybody hurt, he doesn’t want blood shed. He just wanted one thing.
“Just to drop charges,” Burns says of his wishes.
When it comes to violence, Burns’ stance begins to soften. Stricklin asks him what should happen if Henshaw won’t agree to let him go. Should Mr. Murphy threaten to hurt him?
"Well yeah of course, because I think that’s the only way that’s going to get his attention," Burns replies.
The conversations weren’t without skepticism, though.
"You’re not wearing a mic are you," Burns is heard asking Strickin in one recording. “You swear to God? You’re not setting me up are you?” Burns says he's concerned with “being another Peterson,” possibly referring to former Bollingbrook police officer Drew Peterson, who was charged with attempting to solicit a hit man to kill the Will County top prosecutor while in prison.
The conversation continues a week later when Stricklin again wears a wire. Burns’ demands expand. Being let out of jail isn’t all he needs. Henshaw also needs a solid excuse.
"I want Henshaw to say that he let me go because he didn’t have enough evidence to keep me here," Burns says.
By this point, Burns is no longer as timid about using violence.
“I just want and need to know what do you really want done,” Stricklin again asks Burns.
"Pain. Pain until he says, ‘Yes,’" Burns replies.
Stricklin asks what should be done if Henshaw won’t agree to the terms.
"Then I guess you start cranking pressure on his fingers," Burns says.
By the final Sept. 13 conversation, there had been a breakdown in communication. Stricklin tells Burns that his man on the outside is uneasy about not being paid half upfront — the original agreement.
"I’ll pay you as soon as you finish the roofing job. I don’t know what else to say," Burns tells Stricklin, preparing for his phone conversation with his hired man. Burns says he isn’t sure how to talk about this in code over the phone so that anyone listening to the conversation won’t understand. Burns and Stricklin agree on a code.
"We have to come up with some lie about roof repair or house repair," Burns says.
Burns also sounds at times like he’s apprehensive of Mr. Murphy.
"I don’t even know his name … he could be a state trooper for all I know," Burns says in a hushed whisper.
Stricklin just laughs him off.
“Oh Doc, you crack me up, buddy.”
Later, Burns again discusses payment and his need for discretion.
"I have to pay cash, you know what I’m saying," Burns tells Stricklin. “I don’t want anything traceable.”
Eventually, the time comes. Stricklin sets up a phone call with Mr. Murphy where Burns is supposed to give the final go-ahead.
"I was wondering if you could do some work on my house," Burns is overheard telling “Mr. Murphy” over the phone.
The jury deliberated about two hours in May before convicting Burns.
‘I’d be a dead man’: Burns claims Stricklin pressured him
Before Judge Walden Morris handed down hise sentence Tuesday, Burns was given a chance to make a statement in court.
Burns began by offering that he was a "humble and modest person." He said his life has been dedicated to helping others through his medical practice and even commented on his love of helping those overseas through medical missionary trips.
Burns also painted a very different picture of his time spent with former cellmate-turned-state-witness Stricklin.
Burns said in court Tuesday that he was given bad legal advice by former attorney Brian Drew — he told Burns not to take the stand. Were he given the chance, Burns said, he would have told the court that Stricklin had lied to him and pressured him to go along with the plan. Burns said Stricklin told him he was an "enforcer" in a Southside Chicago mafia affiliate and encouraged Burns to pressure Henshaw into dropping his charges.
Burns told Morris that Stricklin was trying to make a deal with the state in his sexual assault of a child case, and that if Burns wouldn't go along, there would be consequences.
"I'd be a dead man if I didn't go along," Burns said.
He added that he knew all about the tapes, and had told people handling his finances not to allow any money to change hands for the deed. He also hoped the court would know he was "not so foolish" to believe that the amount discussed to pay for the job, $1,000, would be enough to cover such an act — he was just going along with what Stricklin wanted.
Burns will return to court at 1 p.m. March 20 for a pretrial hearing in his murder case. Marion's Duane Verity is representing Burns and said during a hearing Tuesday that he has had several problems with discovery, including lack of cooperation with television stations answering subpoenas. He asked the court for another 60 days to prepare.
This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Burns would serve his 20-year sentence in addition to time served. He will get credit for time served.