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Forum staff reports, Published November 01 2010

Suspect aims to have confession to Moorhead murder thrown out

An attorney for Clarence Michael Burcham, the man charged with murder in the fatal strangling of a Moorhead woman in 1993, tried to make the case Monday in Clay County District Court that an alleged confession should be inadmissible at trial.

In nearly three hours on the stand, Moorhead Det. Ryan Nelson testified about the admission he obtained after two 2009 interviews with Burcham, who he said was his top suspect after he took over the case in 2005.

Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks, a Twin Cities attorney, said Burcham only agreed that he’d killed Sharon Stafford after Nelson mentioned it multiple times, suggesting that Burcham had offered a false confession.

Nelson said he’d already caught Burcham changing his story, and he was trying to get him to be honest.

Eichhorn-Hicks said the time passed since the 1993 death, Burcham’s consumption of alcohol that day and his client’s diminished intelligence all explain why he’d lack precise recollection.

Earlier this year, the defense unsuccessfully tried to get a judge to rule that Burcham was unfit to stand trial.

Judge Galen Vaa directed the attorneys to file briefs on the motion by the end of the month. He plans to rule on the matter by Dec. 29.