Man accused of killing 83-year-old woman and Ellicott City couple, in part over COVID vaccines, found competent for trials




  • In US
  • 2022-10-07 14:14:00Z
  • By Baltimore Sun
 

The Cumberland man accused of three killings last September in Howard and Allegany counties - which police say were motivated in part by his brother's work administering COVID-19 vaccines - has been found competent to stand trial.

Jeffrey Allen Burnham, 47, was found not competent by judges earlier this year in both counties due to a mental disorder. But hearings held this week in both jurisdictions led to findings he is now competent.

Police accuse Burnham of killing an 83-year-old friend of his mother's in Allegany County, stealing her vehicle and driving more than 100 miles to the Ellicott City home of his half-brother and sister-in-law, who he then allegedly shot to death.

In Howard County Circuit Court on Friday morning, Burnham's attorney Joshua Speert agreed with the competency finding and entered a plea of not criminally responsible.

That plea means the defense could argue that, at the time of the alleged offenses last September, Burnham either didn't understand the criminality of his actions or could not modify his behavior to what the law required.

Competency, in contrast, evaluates whether an individual is able to assist in their own defense and understands the circumstances and roles of the court.

The Maryland Department of Health will prepare a report on Burnham's criminal responsibility. Then the court will have a subsequent hearing on the matter. It is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 in Howard County. Burnham is set to face trial beginning in April.

In Allegany County, meanwhile, a public courts website indicates Burnham was found competent in a Tuesday hearing. A trial date does not appear to have been set.

An Allegany County court clerk employee confirmed the judge's finding through hearing notes and said the court is preparing an order. A status hearing will be held in 30 days, according to the notes. Requests for comment left Wednesday for Burnham's attorneys from the Allegany County public defender's office and to the Allegany state's attorney were not returned.

Burnham appeared Friday in Howard County court wearing a black sweater and blue jeans. He answered questions from his attorney and the judge about the date, his age and education level and whether he understood the proceedings.

He confirmed to the judge he agreed with pleading not criminally responsible. His attorney filed that plea on Friday.

Burnham is charged in Howard County with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Brian and Kelly Robinette, an Ellicott City couple remembered as high school sweethearts and part of an "ideal" family with two adopted children. Relatives said Brian Robinette had not kept in touch with his half-brother, Burnham.

According to charging documents, Burnham told his mother he needed to confront Robinette because he believed Robinette was poisoning people by administering the COVID-19 vaccine in his work as a pharmacist and made comments about the "government poisoning people with COVID vaccines." He also allegedly told an unnamed person his brother was "killing people with the COVID shot."

Burnham's mother contacted police in Cumberland, where the two lived together, about her son saying the FBI was "coming after" them and with concerns about his "mental stability."

He was taken into custody last year after an 18-hour manhunt.

If both prosecutors and Burnham's defense agree he is not criminally responsible, or if a judge or jury makes that finding, then he would be held in Department of Health custody for an indeterminate period, until he is deemed in good psychiatric health.

If there is disagreement over his criminal responsibility, a trial on guilt or innocence would take place. If he were found guilty, then a decision would be made on his criminal responsibility and could lead to a prison sentence or Department of Health custody.

In Allegany County, Burnham is charged with first-degree murder and vehicle theft in connection with the killing of Rebecca Reynolds, 83. Reynolds was found dead with a deep laceration in her neck and a pillow over her face, according to charging documents.

Reynolds' neighbors told The Baltimore Sun last year she was an independent woman who loved her dogs and had a feisty spirit.

"She was little, but she was mighty," one Cumberland neighbor said.

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