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Mouseketeer homicide suspect found mentally fit for trial

A homicide trial is back on for the man charged in the death of a Phoenix resident who was known for his child acting role in the 1950s.

Daniel James Burda, 37, was found mentally fit to stand trial on charges that include manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of 76-year-old Dennis W. Day, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Greif ruled late last week.

The trial, expected to last 15 days, is scheduled to start Aug. 10.

Greif made her determination May 14 based on information that included a psychological evaluation conducted by Oregon State Hospital that was filed April 17, court records show. The details of the eight-page report are sealed in court records, but Burda was sent from the Jackson County Jail to the state hospital in Salem in March after a judge found Burda unable to participate in his own legal defense.

Burda was charged in the case last summer.

Day was last seen alive in July 2018. Burda lived with Day and Day’s husband, Ernie Caswell, and worked as a handyman at the couple’s Phoenix home.

Day was a founding cast member — or “Mouseketeer” — on the first two seasons of Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club” TV series. He and Caswell lived in Southern Oregon for more than two decades. Caswell has since passed away.

Day was listed as a missing person for nearly eight months in a case that made national headlines. Police reportedly found Day’s body at his home under a pile of clothes in April 2019, according to news reports and a lawsuit filed by Day’s sister and other family members earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed in March, accuses Phoenix police with negligence in the investigation by overlooking Day’s body inside his own home and missing key evidence.

An amended lawsuit filed May 15 added a new charge of “tortious interference with a corpse,” alleging that Phoenix police “damaged the deceased body of Mr. Day by stepping on him and creating post mortem fractures.” They said the oversight caused Day’s body “to decompose to an unidentifiable state.”

The lawsuit seeks damages of $1.7 million.

Day was last seen alive in the middle of July 2018 by a Meals on Wheels volunteer at his Phoenix home. Caswell had recently been moved to assisted living after suffering a series of falls.

On July 26, Oregon State Police pulled over two people driving Day’s 1990s Ford Escort in Coos County. Lori Ann Declusin, 35, was later charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Court records show Declusin, who lived in White City last summer, now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and that she is wanted as a witness in Burda’s trial, according to filings by the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office.

Another suspect charged in the vehicle theft, Wanda Diane Garcia, 58, has pending felony charges accusing her of taking Day’s vehicle and stealing a brooch that belonged to Day.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Daniel James Burda is charged with manslaughter in the death of founding Mickey Mouse Club member Dennis W. Day, who lived in Phoenix. Jackson County Jail booking photo
Photos of Dennis Day distributed by friends during the missing persons investigation.