Mouseketeer homicide case to remain in Jackson County
The man accused of killing Dennis W. Day, a one-time child actor who was an original member of the Mickey Mouse Club, will be tried in Jackson County a judge ruled.
Daniel James Burda, 37, will face trial for the killing of Day in Jackson County Circuit Court, according to a court order filed Tuesday by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia, who denied a motion filed by Burda’s lawyers last month that sought to move the case out of the area for fear that extensive local media coverage about the case threatened Burda’s right to a fair and impartial jury.
John Hamilton, one of Burda’s court-appointed defense lawyers, argued in a motion filed Aug. 12 that the extensive media coverage, and potential jurors’ ability to discuss stories on social media about details that may not be submitted to a jury as evidence, “polluted” Burda’s right to a fair trial.
Hamilton argued that the media’s access to a previously sealed probable cause affidavit in Burda’s arrest gave Jackson County residents access to “evidence that may ultimately be inadmissible at trial.”
The Oregonian/OregonLive obtained the court document, which contained alleged admissions made by Burda, through a public records request. The Mail Tribune ran a version of the Portland news outlet’s report in July.
Day was best known for his role in the 1950s as a Mouseketeer alongside the likes of Annette Funicello in the first two seasons of the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
Day had been missing for about nine months when investigators found a body in Day’s Phoenix home in early April. Investigators confirmed the body as that of Day in June, and arrested Burda on felony charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree abuse of a corpse in Day’s death.
In a response filed Aug. 21, Deputy District Attorney Virginia Greer argued against changing venue, noting in part that the media attention is not localized and isn’t even restricted to the state of Oregon. Greer provided links to stories in USA Today, People magazine, the New York Post, The Vanished podcast and a Wikipedia link.
“The courts have been clear that even with nationwide media coverage, the remedy is not to change venue but, rather, to engage in a meaningful jury selection process to ensure a fair trial,” Greer wrote. “The separation of the initial wave of media coverage and the trail date will be sufficiently attenuated to mitigate the impact of the media’s coverage regarding this case.”
Mejia’s order only noted that he made the decision based on the court filings. A Sept. 5 hearing on the matter was canceled the day of the hearing.
Court filings show that Burda’s defense lawyers are also concerned about their client’s mental fitness to proceed in the case. Court records show that Burda’s other court-appointed defense lawyer Christine Herbert argued for Burda to have a consultation with Jackson County Mental Health earlier this month based on a psychiatric evaluation filed Aug. 29.
The contents of the psychiatric evaluation are sealed; however, earlier courtroom proceedings show that Burda had apparent difficulty understanding the gravity of the charges filed against him.
At an initial court appearance in July, Burda asked whether he could be transferred to the Jackson County Community Justice Work Center if he were to accept a plea bargain in the homicide case.
Court records show that Burda has a pretrial conference set for Sept. 16. No trial date has been set in Burda’s case.