Testimony calls Claremont standoff suspect ‘delusional and irrational’

  • Michael Burns (Claremont police photograph)

  • Michael Burns walks into a Sullivan County Superior Court courtroom on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Newport, N.H. Burns was being arraigned on additional charges from a standoff with police in Claremont this past summer. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2020 10:09:59 PM
Modified: 3/13/2020 10:11:22 PM

NEWPORT — A 55-year-old Claremont man accused of firing more than 100 rounds during a daylong standoff with police last year made “delusional” statements referencing serial killers and poisoning during a mental evaluation, according to a forensic examiner.

At a competency hearing for Michael Burns on Friday, examiner Tiffany Piascik, a forensic psychologist, recommended that a judge rule Burns not currently competent to stand trial for charges of assault and reckless conduct related to the August standoff and an altercation several days before. Sullivan County Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker did not make a ruling during the hearing Friday.

Burns, who is currently being held Sullivan County jail, appeared in court Friday wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hair tied back in a low ponytail. He rubbed his hands and stared straight ahead as Piascik, who works as an evaluator for the New Hampshire forensic examiner’s office, detailed the findings of the October mental assessment.

She testified that during the evaluation, Burns made rambling, off-topic statements, connecting his case to famous murders and claiming he’d been poisoned years earlier. Piascik called his thinking “illogical” at times and referenced one claim Burns made that Andrea Stiers, a witness to an incident days before the standoff in which Burns allegedly punched a man through a car window, was the daughter of a famous serial killer. Burns told the psychologist he believed Stiers was in danger and that a man was “after her,” possibly because of her family connection.

“He made paranoid and delusional statements about an alleged victim,” Piascik said.

She said Burns was capable of understanding the basics of the legal system, including what a prosecutor is and that he might face prison time if convicted. But for the most part, his thought process was “delusional and irrational” and suggested he may be suffering from schizophrenia or a personality disorder, she said. Piascik testified that Burns may be competent in the future if he’s diagnosed for mental illness and treated with medication.

Burns’ initial defense attorney, Jay Buckey, had filed a motion to determine competency the day after Burns’ arrest when conversations with Burns raised “questions as to competency,” he wrote in the motion.

But Burns’ current attorney, Tony Hutchins, argued in the court that his client believes he is competent to stand trial.

Hutchins pushed back against Piascik’s assessment Friday, saying that there were several statements Burns made during the evaluation that may have been true. Specifically, he said Burns’ claim about Stiers’ family history was accurate; she is the daughter of infamous killer Terry Rasmussen, who is linked to several dead bodies that were found in barrels in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, N.H., according to authorities.

A message to Stiers was not returned Friday, but she has spoken out about her father in the past.

“Michael Burns’ position is that he is competent, he’s able to understand what’s going on,” Hutchins told the judge at the end of the hearing. “He has a different view of the facts of the case, but that’s often true in criminal cases.”

The hearing comes months after the series of incidents that led up to Burns’ arrest in August, beginning with an alleged assault on Sullivan Street. A driver named Timothy Melendy was sitting in a parked car on the street while waiting to pick Stiers up for dinner when Burns rode up on a bicycle and started yelling at him, according to an affidavit written by New Hampshire State Police patrolman Alexander Kelsey.

Burns punched Melendy through the window several times, threatened to kill him and asked “what did he do with (Stiers),” the affidavit said. Melendy was able to drive away, and Burns refused to answer questions when police located him later that day.

Just three days later, on Aug. 15, police responded to a house on Centennial Street in Claremont around 5:30 a.m. after a report of gunshots. Burns continued firing more than 100 rounds from his home over the next seven hours, hitting buildings, trees and cars, police said in court documents. Nobody was wounded in the barrage of bullets.

The standoff ended with Burns taken into custody around 2:30 p.m., after hours of negotiation and a “shelter in place” order for nearby residents. Burns wasn’t wearing clothing at the time of his arrest, and police found guns and shell casings in his apartment, according to court documents.

Years before, Burns was previously arrested on a terrorizing charge, as well as creating a police standoff and indecent conduct, following a six-hour standoff with police in Waterboro, Maine, in May 2008, according to a report at the time from the Waterboro Reporter. The incident in Maine was never prosecuted, according to Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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