The Niskayuna man accused of stabbing his estranged wife to death in Lake Luzerne on Christmas Eve had a long history of violence and threats against others, including his wife, records show.
That history includes a 2003 fist attack on the same woman he would be accused of killing a decade later, according to court records. He was accused of knocking her down and punching her in the face and head at their WTRY Road residence.
Meanwhile, the woman killed, 42-year-old Patricia Burns, formerly of Niskayuna, was remembered Friday by her co-workers at The Community Hospice in Saratoga County as an outstanding caregiver, someone who treated her hospice patients with the utmost dignity and compassion.
She also was a woman who had a strong sense of love for her children.
Clifford R. Burns, 46, of Troy-Schenectady Road, was arrested late Tuesday by Warren County sheriff’s deputies for allegedly stabbing Patricia Burns to death and injuring her 22-year-old daughter, Megan Jenkins. Jenkins sustained stab wounds to her arms as she tried to come to her mother’s aid, sheriff’s officials said.
Clifford Burns was arrested after a brief chase and charged with second-degree murder.
Clifford Burns had a Niskayuna address and appeared to live much of his life in the town.
It was unclear Friday when the two became estranged, but Patricia Burns and her daughters appeared to have moved to Lake Luzerne around 2009.
Clifford Burns has a long list of run-ins with police in Niskayuna, though none more recent than 2008.
In the 2003 incident, which resulted in a plea to misdemeanor criminal contempt, Clifford Burns became enraged in a dispute over a Fourth of July camping trip that ended prematurely, according to papers filed in court. In a statement filed by Patricia Burns in court that same day, she told police they were arguing when her husband attacked her.
“He turned around, pushed me backwards, and started punching me with both fists in the face and the body,” she wrote. Patricia Burns then broke away, fled the home and police arrived.
By then, she already had an order of protection against Burns, leading to the contempt conviction. The reason for that order, which expired in 2004, was unclear. He was originally charged with felony criminal contempt.
In the months leading up to Patricia Burns’ killing, the two had sparred over child support payments, the Glens Falls Post-Star quoted authorities there as saying this week. The paper also quoted authorities as saying Clifford Burns had been upset that she was dating another man.
The nature of their relationship between 2003 and recent months was also not completely clear Friday, but Kim Siciliano, director of women and family services at the Schenectady County YWCA, spoke generally Friday, saying it’s not uncommon for women to repeatedly go back to an abusive relationships.
Siciliano also said that once the women do leave, the first three months on their own is the most dangerous time for victims.
“It takes many victims seven to 10 times before they’re finally able to break away from that power and control,” Siciliano said. “They truly love their perpetrator.”
The fear of being harmed also can keep bringing them back, Siciliano said.
Patricia Burns worked with The Community Hospice locally for eight years, first at The Inn at St. Peter’s and then at the hospice’s Saratoga County office beginning in early 2011.
In the Saratoga County office, Trish, as she was called, visited hospice patients throughout the county as a certified home health aide. She prepared meals, tended to the patients and helped family, according to hospice Regional Director Alice Benfey.
“She treated all of her patients with such dignity and respect and compassion,” Benfey said. “She was an outstanding caregiver.”
Three years ago, Burns suffered through the loss of her 15-year-old daughter, Christalin, who died suddenly Dec. 27, 2010.
“She had such a strong sense of love for all of her children, and for her daughter Chrissy,” Benfey said. Burns five children, according to her obituary.
Clifford Burns’ most recent arrest appears to be in 2012 in the town of Greenfield. He was arrested on felony contempt charges, according to the Post-Star. It was unclear who the victim was in that case.
In Niskayuna, Clifford Burns faced violation harassment counts in 2005 and two in 2008. Details of two of those cases were unavailable, but in December 2008, Clifford Burns was accused of threatening a Niskayuna school bus driver after some kind of dispute.
“If it happens again, I’ll pull you off the bus and knock your teeth out with a pair of pliers,” Burns allegedly told the bus driver. “Go ahead and call the cops, I don’t care.”
In the 1990s, Burns spent more than two years in state prison for burglary, state records show.
The burglary was domestic violence-related, according to an Albany Times-Union account from the time. Burns admitted to trashing his ex-girlfriend’s Colonie apartment in 1994. The woman told a judge later she had suffered six years of abuse and feared for her safety upon Burns’ release.
Burns’ family history also involved domestic violence. His father, James Burns, also of Niskayuna, was accused of trying to kill Clifford’s mother, Edythe, shooting her in the chest as they drove on Route 7 in 1981. She survived. He was later convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to as much as 4 1⁄2 years in prison, but remained free pending appeal.
Later, as James Burns’ appeal had yet to be heard, he kidnapped Edythe, shot and wounded a Colonie police officer coming to her aid and then killed himself, according to a Schenectady Gazette account. She was unharmed.
Edythe Burns died in 2008, records show.
At The Community Hospice on Friday, Benfey said of Patricia Burns, “We remember her smile and her strength, and we just hold her family in our hearts.”
Services are scheduled for Monday at 9:45 a.m. at McVeigh Funeral Home, 208 N. Allen St., Albany, according to Burns' obituary. A 10:30 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial will then be celebrated at Blessed Sacrament Church in Albany.
Calling hours for relatives and friends are set for 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home.