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Florida man convicted in murder of trooper wants off death row because of dementia diagnosis

Daniel Burns Jr., 73, was convicted in 1988 for the first-degree murder of an FHP trooper and trafficking in cocaine.
Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

BRADENTON, Fla. — In 1988, Daniel Burns Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

He was sentenced to death for the 1987 fatal shooting of Trooper Jeffrey Young and was given 30 years for trafficking in cocaine.

Now 73, Burns has been on death row for more than 30 years. 

His attorneys are asking for his death sentence to be revoked because of a 2018 evaluation by a doctor who says Burns suffers from dementia.

His attorneys will argue at a court hearing this afternoon for a PET scan and an MRI of Burns' brain "to complete a diagnosis related to his deteriorating mental and physical condition."

This isn't the first time Burns has asked to have his sentence vacated. Between 1988 and 1994, there were multiple motions filed for him to be resentenced to life in prison, including one saying the death penalty is racist.

In 2004, the state of Florida sent the case back to the circuit court for 180 days to determine Burns' mental capacity. In 2005, the court determined Burns did not have mental disabilities.

Then in 2007, 2009 and 2017, Burns filed successive Motions to Vacate Judgement of Sentence because of newly-discovered evidence and a change in Florida law. All three orders were denied.

The doctor who evaluated Burns in 2018 recommends a PET scan and MRI to complete a diagnosis. 

Burns was evaluated by another doctor in 2014, who said he suffers from dementia with declining cognitive ability. This doctor also recommended the scans.

Burns' attorneys argue that failure to allow him to have these scans violates Burns' rights under the fifth, eighth and fourteenth amendments. 

Prosecutors say the request to vacate the death sentence because of mental capacity is premature because the governor has not yet signed a warrant for Burns' execution. The state also says a PET scan and MRI are not relevant for consideration on Burns' sanity.

Prosecutors are also requesting reports and raw data from doctors' evaluations.

A hearing is expected to be held at 3 p.m. today in Bradenton.

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