HARRISBURG — Brian Burns is on track to be tried for the 2016 death of his estranged wife, Carla Burns — at least for now.
In what has been nearly three years of starts and stops, as well as new charges, Burns is still scheduled to be tried Jan. 23. However, a motion hearing set for 1 p.m. Tuesday could change that.
Burns was charged in 2016 with the murder of Carla and for concealing her body — he burned her remains, according to police accounts. He has also been tried and convicted for attempting to have late Saline County State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw kidnapped while being held in jail. Burns is currently serving 20 years in Menard Correctional Center for the crime.
In what was scheduled to be his final pretrial conference before the jury trial later in the month, defense attorney Duane Verity, of Marion, filed a motion asking for a fitness examination — Verity does not believe that Burns is able to understand the court proceedings nor help in his own defense.
In Walden Morris’ courtroom, during one of his last appearances in October, Verity had made a very similar motion which he withdrew after a somewhat heated debate over whether Verity had to present witnesses or evidence to support the motion. Verity said then, and maintained Friday, that to provide much detail on why he believed Burns to be unfit would have violated his oath to uphold attorney-client privilege.
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Morris and Verity disagreed about the need for an evidentiary hearing on the matter. Verity told Morris in October that the motion “speaks for itself” without the need of producing evidence to prove that Burns should have his mental state evaluated. This doubt, Verity said, is all he needed according to state statute to be granted the evaluation for his client.
Morris still took issue with the fact that Verity planned to have no witnesses and present no evidence, and asked Jayson Clark, the Saline County State’s Attorney at the time, his feelings. Clark remained neutral on the matter.
“The court just can’t divine facts,” Morris said, advocating for evidence to be presented.
When asked how Friday’s motion differed from that previously filed, Verity said he added more specifics that he hoped would satisfy Morris. Some were read in court by Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Olson — he read that Verity believes Burns has an inability to discern the difference between his murder trial, the previous kidnapping trial and a civil case against him as well as an inability to follow a single line of thought for very long. Verity also wrote that he believes Burns exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Verity said he does not plan to present evidence or witnesses on the matter during the motion hearing and said the state will have the opportunity to, though he’s not sure how they would do that because Burns has not yet been evaluated by any professionals.
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Should the motion for a fitness exam be denied than Verity said they will proceed with the Jan. 23 trial date. Verity said should this motion be granted, a trial would be put on hold until the exam is performed. If he is determined to be unfit, Verity said Burns will be provided treatment and potentially reevaluated.