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Brian Burns

Brian Burns, right, the former physician charged with killing his wife in 2016, talks with his attorney, Duane Verity, on Monday, after court in Harrisburg. Verity had tried to withdraw from the case, but Judge Walden Morris denied that motion Monday and set a jury trial for 9 a.m. Dec. 9.

HARRISBURG — Despite his efforts to withdraw as counsel for a Saline County man accused of murder, Duane Verity will be Brian Burns’ defense attorney after all.

Burns, who previously worked as a physician, is charged with the April 2016 death of his estranged wife, Carla Burns. It is alleged that he murdered his wife and burned her body, later scattering her ashes.

On Aug. 16, Verity announced his intention to withdraw from Burns’ case. He cited turnover in his office, as well as a shortage of other resources, as the reasons he would no longer be able to represent Burns in his case.

However, he didn’t actually file the motion until Monday. In his argument for Judge Walden Morris to grant the motion Monday, he said the attorney-client relationship had completely devolved. He said there are no longer conversations between him and Burns — he mostly just gets demands and insults, Verity told the court.

“I’ve been accused of stealing his money,” Verity said. He said Burns has called him drunk and stupid, and he said Burns told him that he could try the case better than Verity.

Addressing the motion, Morris asked Burns if he had gotten a chance to review it — Burns replied that he had been handed it less than a minute before the hearing.

“I paid a large retainer to him … now he wants to take that retainer,” Burns said.

Verity said the retainer ran out last October. Since that time, he said, he has paid thousands of dollars of his own money to pay for motions to be filed and for Burns’ mental evaluation. He said he could not carry the case on his own financially.

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Morris pointed out that Verity had filed his appearance in the case in 2017, and in those two years has repeatedly said he was ready for trial. Morris said to grant the motion would unduly delay the trial, which is already more than three years removed from the alleged murder. Because of that delay, Morris denied Verity’s motion.

The state and defense agreed to set a 9 a.m. Dec. 9 jury trial, preceded by a 9 a.m. Nov. 22 final pretrial hearing.

Burns’ case has been beset with setbacks. The first came in September 2016, when he was charged with attempting — while in jail on the murder charge — to have then-State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw kidnapped. Then, there was the request by Burns’ former defense attorney, Bryan Drew, to have Burns’ cases moved out of Saline County — he said extensive media coverage of the cases would have tainted the jury pool. Judge Morris denied that request.

Pushing back his murder trial further, the court decided to try his attempted kidnapping case first. After Burns was convicted in May of 2017 of three charges related to his attempt to hire someone to kidnap Henshaw, Drew left Burns’ defense, citing unresolvable differences between him and his client. That delayed Burns' sentencing more than once, and he eventually was sentenced in January of 2018 to 20 years in prison for the attempted kidnapping.

Then, in October of 2018, Verity unsuccessfully argued for his client to be tested for mental fitness. He would not go into details on the matter because he said it would have violated his attorney-client privilege. Morris said he would need to present some evidence as to why the court would need to provide such an exam.

In January, Verity acquiesced to Morris’ request for details and said his client couldn’t follow a single line of conversation and routinely conflated his two criminal cases. Based on that, Morris granted the request. However, it took months to get Burns seen by the doctor. In May, Verity told the court he had not yet received the report on his client’s fitness, nor had he received a motion the state had made to appoint a special prosecutor because of several claimed conflicts of interest with the newly hired staff of State’s Attorney Molly Wilson Kasiar.

In June, the court deemed Burns fit to stand trial, and appointed a special prosecutor.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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