Schenectady County

Niskayuna man sentenced for murdering wife

Despite tearful statements from all three of his daughters, a Niskayuna man insisted in Warren Count
Clifford Burns of Niskayuna, covers his face with court papers after his sentencing in Warren County Court Friday, September 5, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Clifford Burns of Niskayuna, covers his face with court papers after his sentencing in Warren County Court Friday, September 5, 2014.

Despite tearful statements from all three of his daughters, a Niskayuna man insisted in Warren County Court Friday that he wasn’t guilty of murdering his wife last Christmas Eve.

Clifford R. Burns, 48, formerly of 1330 Union St., nevertheless wasn’t allowed to take back his April guilty plea to second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Patricia Burns, which two daughters witnessed.

“It’s unfortunate you don’t take responsibility,” said Warren County Court Judge John J. Hall. “Your 15-year-old daughter appears more mature than you are.”

The judge concluded that the April plea was made voluntarily, and refused to let Burns take it back.

Hall then sentenced the unrepentant Burns to 23 years to life in prison — the prison term that was agreed to under a plea bargain when Burns pleaded guilty to murder in April.

Burns, through court-appointed attorney Garfield Raymond, immediately filed a motion to appeal the conviction.

Prosecutors said Burns drove to Lake Luzerne and attacked his 42-year-old wife in the presence of two of their daughters as she made Christmas Eve dinner, stabbing her with a knife that was never recovered. Burns was arrested soon afterward following a brief car chase.

In a motion he filed in his own behalf on Aug. 25, Burns sought to take back his guilty ple. Both he and his attorney maintained that position in court on Friday.

The defendant didn’t deny stabbing Patricia Burns, but said he acted under “extreme emotional duress” — a factor sometimes considered to reduce the severity of a charge or reduce prison time.

Burns said his previous attorney hadn’t advised him on the possible emotional duress defense before he entered his guilty plea.

“I never intended to murder my wife, and I am innocent of the murder of my wife,” Burns said when allowed to make a statement to the court.

Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, however, said there was ample proof that Burns acted with premeditation, including his sending a text message to one daughter the day before the killing that she interpreted as a threat against her mother.

Burns went to the apartment dressed in camouflage and carrying a hunting knife, and he left a note at the Niskayuna house that read like a will and testament in case police killed him, Hogan said.

“The evidence was overwhelming. There was no viable EED defense,” Hogan told the judge.

After Hall denied the motion to withdraw the plea, the sentencing proceeded as scheduled.

The couple’s oldest daughter, 23-year-old Megan Jenkins, was stabbed in the arm as she tried to pull her father off her mother, whom Hogan said was begging for her life.

In a victim impact statement, Jenkins noted that her mother was a hospice nurse in Saratoga County, known for her “love, care and energy.”

“My Christmas is forever tainted,” Jenkins said. “I can’t close my eyes at night without seeing my mother bleeding out on the floor.”

Two teenage daughters also gave statements that reduced them to sobs and tears.

“Not only did I lose my caregiver, I lost my best friend,” said Autumn Burns. “I’m scared that someday this will happen to me … I live day to day wondering what if, and how come, and why.”

“There are no words to describe how I actually feel,” said 15-year-old Carly Burns. “I just want my mom there to support me.”

Burns, dressed in a Warren County Jail prisoner’s outfit, stared down at the table where he sat most of the time while his daughters spoke, though he looked at them occasionally.

Dozens of the victim’s family members and friends attended the proceeding.

Clifford Burns had a long history of violence and threats against others, including a 2003 assault on Patricia Burns that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction.

Burns remained defiant to the end of the sentencing, arguing with Hall as the judge imposed a 31-year order of protection, forbidding him to have any contact with his children.

Burns contended that once they are adults, they should have the right to contact him in prison if they wish.

Hall said the daughters could apply to him to see Burns, and he could consider it, but he might not agree, “given the ongoing abuse of the children by murdering their mother.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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