Defendant Plans to Plea Involuntary Intoxication by Paxil
Paragraph two reads: "James Burns, accused of murder in connection with the December 2004 death of Thomas Condon, plans to argue he was involuntarily intoxicated by the prescription drug Paxil at the time of the incident."
A murder case with a lot of twists and turns since 2004 has at least one more twist in store.
James Burns, accused of murder in connection with the December 2004 death of Thomas Condon, plans to argue he was involuntarily intoxicated by the prescription drug Paxil at the time of the incident.
Burns' attorney, Hugh Richard Williams of Carbondale, served notice of "affirmative defense" on the court at a hearing Wednesday. The defense depends upon a medical expert reviewing the case and medical records of the defendant.
Burns pleaded guilty to the 2004 murder of Condon in 2006, but the plea agreement was sent back to Saline County Circuit Court after it was appealed to the Fifth District Appellate Court. Burns then filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea on Dec. 5, 2008. That motion was granted Nov. 18, 2009, so the trial process has started again. An April 6 trial date was canceled; a status hearing will be held that day instead.
Williams took the case in January after Burns put together enough money to hire a private attorney instead of public defenders. Williams said he was "intrigued by the case" and took a fraction of his usual fee up-front to begin working on a defense.
Williams was allotted $500 by Judge Mark Clarke to have a doctor allowed to prescribe Paxil look over the case and see if further inquiry by an expert witness is necessary. The doctor who prescribed the drug, Dr. F. A. Munas, with the Veterans Administration, is now retired. He may be difficult to track down, although no effort has been made yet, Williams said.
In 2003, Burns was diagnosed with dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade form of depression that lasts years at a time. He was issued a prescription for 10 mg Paxil on Oct. 29, 2003. After telling personnel at the VA he "jumped out of a car and chased a guy," the dose was increased to 20 mg, according to court documents. Ten days later, on Dec. 11, 2003 the dose was doubled to 40 mg. He was also diagnosed with panic disorder on the same date. The list of medications he was using at the time include Paxil, Albuterol, butalbital, baclofen, flunisolide, gabapentin, naproxen and simvaastatin.
In June 2004, the VA did an assessment of Burns and found he posed no significant risk to himself even though he had a history of violence and impulsive behavior, according to court documents. Burns also received a homicide risk evaluation that consisted of asking him whether he planned to hurt anyone, according to court documents. During an evaluation or assessment of some sort, Burns told the VA he "goes off if the right buttons are pushed," and reported a verbal altercation.
When Burns withdrew his guilty plea in 2008, he successfully argued he did not understand the sentence fully - 45 years with no chance of early release and two years of parole - when he agreed to a guilty plea in 2006. Burns has said he did not understand he would have to serve 100 percent of the sentence.
Condon hired Burns to do some remodeling work in fall 2004, but the relationship apparently turned sour. Condon had filed a police report stating Burns had begun choking and punching him after a dispute over a white or gray counter top, according to the April 16, 2006 edition of the newspaper.
A neighbor called 9-1-1 on Dec. 10, 2004 and reported seeing Burns' truck around Condon's residence, former State's Attorney David Nelson said in 2006. Harrisburg Officer Terry Sisky told the neighbor in November 2004 to call if she saw Burns or his vehicle at Condon's house, but Sisky was not working Dec. 10,2004, Nelson said in 2006. On Dec. 21, 2004, the neighbor -- unidentified in the 2006 court hearing regarding the plea agreement -- called again and said Burns was at Condon's house. He was stopped by police but they had no reason to hold him at that time, Nelson said.
On Dec. 28, 2004, Condon's ex-wife asked police to check on Condon's welfare. She had not seen or heard from Condon in several days and was concerned about him, according to police reports. Police found Condon's body after noon the same day. Condon had been dead for some time.