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Published February 06 2010

New competency report sought in murder case

A Clay County judge will decide if a second opinion is needed in determining if a man accused of a cold-case Moorhead murder is mentally fit to stand trial.

A report by a psychiatrist at the state hospital in St. Peter, Minn., found Clarence Michael Burcham, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 1993 death of Sharon Stafford, is not mentally competent enough to stand trial.

By state law, defendants in Minnesota must have the mental competency to assist in their own defense.

The doctor who deemed Burcham incompetent, Dr. Robin Ballina, testified in a competency hearing Friday in Clay County District Court. Burcham has an IQ of 58, she said, which prevents him from grasping the concept of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Burcham is capable of discerning the roles of his attorney, the judge and prosecutors, Ballina said.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton called two other witnesses, the police detective who questioned him and his longtime girlfriend, in hopes of bolstering his argument that Burcham is malingering – trying to come off as less competent than he is.

Melton asked Judge Galen Vaa to order a second assessment. Vaa will make a decision after Melton and Burcham’s attorney file briefs on the matter in the next two weeks.

If Burcham is judged to be unable to stand trial, he would be held in the state hospital until his mental capacity improves. If it doesn’t, he’d be held there indefinitely.