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Man charged in Mouseketeer's death found unfit to stand trial

Dennis Day web.jpg
Photos of Dennis Day distributed by friends during the missing persons investigation.

The man charged in the mistreatment and homicide of a former child actor who lived in Southern Oregon has been found mentally unfit to stand trial.

Daniel James Burda, 37, who has pending charges accusing him of killing founding Mickey Mouse Club cast member Dennis Day and hiding the body in Day’s Phoenix home, will be committed to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, according to an order filed Monday by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Greif.

It says that Burda is a danger to himself or others based on “a qualifying mental disorder” that has thus far been sealed in court records, and that Burda needs “a hospital level of care” because his symptoms are acute.

Behind Greif’s decision were three factors: a sealed psychiatric report filed by Burda’s court-appointed defense lawyers early last month, a Jackson County Mental Health consultation ordered in September and the judge’s observation of Burda at Monday’s hearing.

Greif has experience in cases involving mental health that includes presiding over Jackson County’s mental health treatment court.

Greif’s ruling orders Burda to be transferred from Jackson County Jail to the state hospital because the resources Burda needs to improve his mental health in order for him to be able to understand the charges against him are not available in the Rogue Valley.

Burda’s behavior at earlier court proceedings appeared to show a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the homicide charges, earlier news reports show. At an initial court appearance earlier this summer, Burda asked a judge if he could move to the Jackson County Work Center if he entered a plea bargain on homicide charges.

If convicted, Burda faces a maximum prison sentences of 10 years per count of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and seven counts of aggravated identity theft; plus five-year prison sentences for each felony count of second-degree abuse of a corpse and first-degree criminal mistreatment, according to the report.

Burda will be held for a maximum commitment of three years. Hospital staff will evaluate Burda within 60 days of his arrival in Salem, and Greif’s orders calls for a status report within 90 days, requires progress reports every 180 days and orders the hospital to notify the court if Burda no longer needs a hospital level of care so he can be moved back into Jackson County Jail custody.

Burda’s next court appearance is scheduled Nov. 18, according to the court filing.

In the summer of 2018, Burda was a live-in handyman at the Phoenix home Day shared with his husband, Henry “Ernie” Caswell. In July 2018, Caswell was moved to a residential care home in Southern Oregon. Caswell passed away last week, family and close friends of the couple shared on Facebook over the weekend.

On July 17, 2018, when Phoenix police stopped at the home to perform a welfare check, Burda told Phoenix police that Day had gone to visit friends. Nine days later, police recovered Day’s Ford Escort station wagon in Coos County, allegedly being driven by a Lori Ann Declusin.

Declusin, 35, and Wanda Diane Garcia, 58, were each charged with felony unauthorized use of a motor vehicle accusing them of taking Day’s car, and Garcia faces a charge of first-degree theft accusing her of taking a brooch belonging to Day and Caswell.

Court records show Declusin has a warrant for her arrest after she failed to appear in court Monday. Garcia’s, who according to court records has numerous aliases, next court appearance is set for Nov. 4.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.