HARRISBURG — The court will have to wait to hear if Brian Burns will be fit to stand trial for murder.
During a status hearing Tuesday, Judge Walden Morris and Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Olson were ready to be briefed on the findings of Dr. Fred Klug of Nashville as to whether Burns is mentally competent to stand trial and aid in his own defense. However, Olson informed Morris that Klug had requested more documents from his office, and had yet to meet with Burns.
Burns was arrested in 2016 in the killing of his estranged wife, Carla Burns, and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of concealing her death, which he allegedly did by burning her body and spreading the ashes.
The mental fitness order did not come without some polite but tense discussions between defense attorney Duane Verity and Morris. In October, Verity attempted to have the motion for mental fitness passed without presenting evidence — he said presenting evidence would have violated his oath as an attorney to protect his attorney-client privilege. He rescinded this motion when it became clear Morris would not grant a motion without evidence.
Verity tried again ahead of a January jury selection, providing more details within his motion as to why he believed Burns was unfit to stand trial — Burns' inability to separate all of his legal matters and to stay on task for more than a few moments were among the facts presented. Morris granted the motion without objection from the state.
Tuesday’s news marks another delay in a case that has been full of them. However, Verity said when it comes to such a serious case, convenience isn’t a consideration.
Verity also said that Burns is anxious to get the trial behind him — he currently is serving a 20-year sentence for conspiring to kidnap the former state’s attorney while in jail on the murder charges.
Verity told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing that while Burns is anxious to go to trial, he has convinced his client that slow and steady is the best course of action.
“I think I’ve convinced him that the best bet is to be thorough,” Verity said, adding that hopefully when it comes time for the state to present evidence, “they don’t have any.”
Verity also said he believes Burns’ direct testimony in court will be important for his case.
Burns will return to court at 1 p.m. March 19, where again, the results of his evaluation are expected to be presented and a trial date could be set.