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Burns sentenced to 20 years over plot to kidnap state's attorney

  • Dr. Brian T. Burns is led away from the courtroom after he was sentenced to 20 years for his plot to kidnap the former Saline County state's attorney.

    Dr. Brian T. Burns is led away from the courtroom after he was sentenced to 20 years for his plot to kidnap the former Saline County state's attorney.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 1/25/2018 5:00 PM

SALINE COUNTY -- A Harrisburg doctor in custody on charges that he murdered his wife in 2016 received a 20-year sentence for his conviction in a plot to kidnap the then-Saline County State's Attorney.

Judge Walden E. Morris sentenced Dr. Brian T. Burns, 58, to 20 years in Illinois Department of Corrections custody Tuesday morning for Burns' conviction in a plan to hire someone to kidnap State's Attorney Mike Henshaw.

Burns already had been jailed on charges that he murdered his estranged wife Carla Burns in March of 2016, burned her body and then spread her ashes across property the couple owned in rural Saline County. While jailed, he offered to pay a fellow inmate to arrange for Henshaw, who was state's attorney at that time, to be kidnapped. Burns' plan was to release Henshaw in exchange for Henshaw dropping the murder case against Burns, according to the testimony of fellow inmate Mark Stricklin.

Henshaw died in May from a fall at his home. An investigation revealed no foul play.

In May, a jury found Burns guilty on all three counts in relation to the kidnapping charges: solicitation of aggravated kidnapping, conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, and attempted aggravated kidnapping.

Special Prosecutor Matt Goetten of the Illinois State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor's Office asked Morris to sentence Burns to 22 years in prison. Sentences on the solicitation charge carry a range of 6 to 30 years, Goetten noted during proceedings.

The serious nature of Burns' kidnapping plan "must be met with equal harshness" at sentencing, Goetten said.

Burns' defense attorney Nathan Rowland, a public defender assigned to represent Burns, asked for the 6-year minimum sentence.

Rowland cited Burns' clean record, save a traffic ticket, his work as a physician on mission trips and potential for rehabilitation as reasons for Morris to consider the minimum sentence.

Burns spoke when asked by Morris if he wished to make a statement on his own behalf, saying he was in jail for a crime he didn't commit and while in jail was coerced into the kidnapping idea by Stricklin.

He said he feared for his life while in jail and was approached by Stricklin about kidnapping Henshaw. Burns said he feared harm if he didn't go along with Stricklin's idea. Burns, who said he is being held in the Jackson County Jail, said he continues to fear for his life while incarcerated.

"Men have been murdered at the Jackson County Jail since I've been there," Burns said.

He also asked for leniency, saying he intends to be found not guilty on the murder charges, and that he plans to honor a plan of his wife's to provide a charity health clinic.

Before his wife's death, Burns said she asked him to create a clinic for people who made too much to qualify for Medicaid but could not afford to purchase health insurance. Burns also said he received bad advice from his previous attorney, Bryan Drew, who Burns said advised him not to testify during the May trial on the kidnapping charges.

Prior to the sentencing, Morris denied a motion filed Monday by Rowland asking for a new trial for Burns.

In addition, Burns' defense attorney for the murder charges, Duane Verity, spoke prior to sentencing, asking for a pretrial hearing in 60 days.

Verity said he is having discovery issues and has not received all files or information from subpoenas he has requested. Saline County State's Attorney Jayson Clark said copies of many of those files are at his office and are readily available, but that as of Tuesday morning, Verity had not requested those files, to Clark's knowledge.

Clark said he would make copies of any file requested or copies of any other media needed. Morris asked Clark and Verity to meet outside the courtroom to make necessary arrangements.

Morris scheduled a pretrial hearing on the murder charges for 1 p.m. March 20.

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