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Emily Welker, Published August 13 2013

Fergus Falls father, son charged with killing relative in alleged drug slaying

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – More than a year after the lifeless body of Scott Burris was discovered in a river near here, his uncle and cousin were charged Monday night with killing the 33-year-old – reportedly over about $20,000 he owed them in drug money.

Michael Alan Burris, 64, and his son, Michael Kyle Burris, 23, were arrested on Monday in Mesa, Ariz., where they moved earlier this year amidst an investigation that had circled around them for months.

According to court records, police interviewed the elder Burris and his son at least a half dozen times, suspecting early on that the three were all involved in drug dealing together. At one point, law enforcement even administered lie detector tests on the father and son, which they failed, and set up a secretly recorded phone call in which Scott’s dad tried to get his brother to admit to the killing.

“I thought maybe you would tell me the truth but I guess you won’t. So you got anything to tell me?” Roger Burris, Scott’s father, asked his brother, Michael Alan Burris, during the Aug. 2 call set up by police.

“Not right now Rog, it’s going to take longer than that,” Michael Alan Burris responded, according to the criminal complaint for second-degree murder.

About seven months later, a jail inmate says the younger Michael Burris admitted to him that he and his father had killed Scott Burris over $20,000 in debt he owed to a drug supplier.

According to the complaint filed in Otter Tail County District Court:

Burris was last seen May 22, 2012, at 1115 N. Oak St. in Fergus Falls, the home where his cousin and uncle lived together. He was reported missing two days later, when a witness found his abandoned van northeast of the city of Elizabeth. There was blood in the van on the floor behind the driver’s seat.

His body was found June 15 by people swimming and tubing the Otter Tail River. The autopsy revealed Scott Burris died from a small caliber gunshot to his head behind his right ear.

Investigators from the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension heard from many sources that Scott Burris had been involved in drug dealing with his uncle and cousin. Cellphone records showed frequent calls among the trio up until Scott Burris disappeared, but neither his uncle nor his cousin attempted to call him after he went missing but before he was found.

A friend of Scott Burris, Valerie Merwin, told investigators she and Burris went to the Twin Cities to pick up drugs from someone Michael Alan Burris knew. She also told investigators the elder Burris had gone around his nephew to get drugs directly from the source, which upset Scott Burris.

Rebecca McGowan said the day Scott Burris was last seen alive, May 22, she asked to buy some marijuana from him. He said he’d have to go to his uncle’s house to get it, and she never heard from him again. Phone records back up that story, police say.

In an interview on June 28 of last year, the younger Burris told investigators he had heard his cousin was shot, though that detail had not been publicly released. A witness, Cheryl Morse, also told investigators she heard Michael Kyle Burris say that his cousin was shot “execution style.”

A .22 caliber handgun owned by the uncle was seized in a search warrant and linked by some characteristics to the bullet that killed his nephew.

Witnesses told police that on May 22, the van Scott Burris was driving was parked outside the home of his uncle and cousin until late in the evening but was gone the next day.

When police questioned the elder Michael Burris, he originally told them he spoke with his nephew a couple of times the day he was last seen, but could not recall the conversations.

He later said he was at Wal-Mart that night, though he doesn’t appear on store surveillance video and he didn’t remember why he went to the store.

Burris also said his nephew was nervous when he left and was accompanied by two men. He claimed Scott Burris was dealing “8 balls” and larger amounts of white powder.

Two witnesses emerged this summer in the months before prosecutors filed charges on Monday.

Josh Reitmeier told authorities June 7 that Scott Burris had played him a voice mail a couple of days before he disappeared in which his cousin threatened to kill him. Reitmeier said Scott Burris told him Michael Kyle Burris was upset because he thought his cousin took his money meant for drugs.

On July 15, an inmate in the Otter Tail County jail said Michael Kyle Burris told him in March that his father had killed his cousin because he owned money to Mexican drug dealers.

The witness, Shawn Agar, alleged to police that the younger Burris had told him he and his father killed “Scotters” and transported the body in the father’s truck.

The cousin was drinking with Agar at the time of the supposed confession, Agar said, and had said he couldn’t handle the stress of knowing about the slaying.

Agar told police he came forward because he also didn’t want to hold in the knowledge and was trying to better himself.

Both Michael Alan Burris and Michael Kyle Burris were being held in the Maricopa County jail on Tuesday night awaiting extradition to Minnesota.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541