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Dave Roepke, Published September 03 2010

Suspected killer may need new lawyer

A Clay County judge has agreed to let a Twin Cities attorney stop representing Clarence Burcham, the man accused in the strangulation death of Sharon Stafford in Moorhead in 1993.

Burcham’s family hasn’t been able to make agreed-upon fee payments, said Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks, the defense attorney.

He didn’t say what his fee was, but the lawyer said Burcham’s family has only paid 20 percent of the initial amount.

Eichhorn-Hicks said he would like to continue to defend Burcham, who calls Eichhorn-Hicks from jail three or four times a day, but he can’t afford to without payment.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said he’d like Eichhorn-Hicks to stay on as Burcham’s attorney because they’ve negotiated about a possible settlement and are about ready to consider the evidentiary issue prior to a trial set for November.

“All that would be gone, and we’d basically be starting anew,” Melton said. “We’ve proceeded a long way in this case.”

Judge Galen Vaa said he didn’t think having the attorney step down would be prejudicial. “If this case was on the eve of a jury trial, I might be of a different opinion,” he said.

Vaa will delay the order allowing Eichhorn-Hicks to step down until Thursday to give Burcham’s family some time to see if they can come up with the cash.

If they don’t, Vaa said Burcham will be appointed a public defender.

Burcham was arrested last summer in connection with the slaying. A Moorhead detective alleges the 46-year-old of Center, N.D., confessed to the killing on June 2, 2009.

Eichhorn-Hicks planned to argue the police interview should be inadmissible at trial. He also claimed Burcham is mentally unfit to stand trial, an argument Vaa rejected in May.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535