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Kidnapping trial begins for Burns

  • Defense attorney Bryan Drew (center left) leads his client Brian Burns (center right) back into a Saline County courtroom on Wednesday, during jury selection proceedings. Wednesday marked the beginning of the Burns conspiracy/kidnapping trial, where he is accused of bribing an undercover detective to kidnap then-Saline County State's Attorney Michael Henshaw.

    Defense attorney Bryan Drew (center left) leads his client Brian Burns (center right) back into a Saline County courtroom on Wednesday, during jury selection proceedings. Wednesday marked the beginning of the Burns conspiracy/kidnapping trial, where he is accused of bribing an undercover detective to kidnap then-Saline County State's Attorney Michael Henshaw.
    Shea Lazansky/Daily Republican

 
BY SHEA LAZANSKY
Staff Writer slazansky@dailyrepublicannews.com
updated: 5/10/2017 6:03 PM

HARRISBURG - The first of two cases against Harrisburg resident and former doctor Brian Burns, went to trial on Wednesday.

Burns is charged with solicitation, conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, and attempted aggravated kidnapping. The charges, filed last year, stem from accusations that Burns bribed undercover Saline County Sheriff's Office Detective David Blazier to kidnap then-Saline County State's Attorney Michael Henshaw, who died earlier this year.

The day started early, with special prosecutor Matt Goetten and defense attorney Bryan Drew hashing out last-minute details in a meeting with Judge Walden Morris. During this meeting, the court addressed Goetten's motion in limine, filed in April, to allow details from Burns' second set of charges, which originally placed him in custody.

Burns was arrested in March of 2016 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of concealment of a body in connection with the disappearance and death of his estranged wife, Carla.

Goetten stated that Burns' initial charges were "inextricably linked" to the kidnapping/conspiracy case, as Burns would not have been incarcerated and facing a considerable number of years behind bars if he had not been charged in the original case.

"Someone charged with a DUI would have little motivation to do this," Goetten said.

A major problem that Drew had with Goetten's argument was that adding in a number of details from Burns' original charges may create bias and prejudice among jurors.

Morris ruled in Goetten's favor, stipulating that a minimum amount of information - the charges and not the connected (possible) sentences - may be entered into evidence for the jury.

The majority of Wednesday's proceedings dealt with the process of jury selection with more than 50 Saline County residents undergoing "interrogation" from Morris, Goetten, and Drew.

As the alleged "victim" of the case was the state's attorney, and a well-known community figure, many potential jurors said that their relationship with Henshaw or a member of his family may have prevented them from being impartial if selected to serve.

After hours of deliberation and questioning, a jury of nine men and three women with two female alternate jurors was selected.

The final matter of the day was the opening statements of the prosecution and defense.

Goetten went first, starting off by calling Burns "an innocent man, as he sits here today.

"In a few days, I'm going to ask you to find him guilty."

Goetten detailed some of the evidence and testimony that the jurors would hear in the case, much of which would come from Burns' cellmate, Mark Stricken, who is currently incarcerated in Saline County Jail.

According to Goetten, Stricken first informed his attorney that he had conversations with Burns about kidnapping Henshaw. Burns' alleged plan was to convince Henshaw to drop the original charges against him.

Over three separate occasions, Stricken wore a wire when communicating with Burns, and engaged him in conversations about the alleged plan.

Goetten also discussed phone calls that would be entered into evidence, that cover discussions between Burns, Stricken, and undercover officers posing as potential "kidnappers" and how payment would be obtained and delivered.

During his portion of opening statements, Drew strongly encouraged the jurors to use their common sense when listening to the case, seemingly implying that the prosecution's charge that Burns believed he could have the state's attorney kidnapped for $1,000 was unbelievable.

"Look at it for what it is," Drew said.

He also emphasized that this was Burns' first offense, first time in jail, and that the evidence would show "who was behind the audio…who was setting it up," again seeming to imply that it was not actually Burns' idea to have Henshaw kidnapped, rather it was Stricken's idea.

The trial will continue in the Saline County Courthouse today at 9 a.m.