It was homicide

Coroner OKs changes to death certificates

State officials last week approved a request from Sangamon County coroner Jim Allmon, deciding that a Springfield man who died after a 2010 altercation with Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies succumbed to homicide.

click to enlarge It was homicide
Patrick Burns died after a 2010 altercation with Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies.

More than a decade ago, an inquest jury could not determine the manner of Patrick Burns’ death. Former coroner Susan Boone decided that Burns, 50, had died from excited delirium, but that cause of death has been stricken from his death certificate, which now says that Burns, who had been hogtied and placed on his stomach, died from asphyxiation. Deputies deployed Tasers more than 20 times.

In an unrelated case, Allmon also has asked the state to amend the death certificate of Anakin Credit, a two-year-old toddler who died in 2008. Boone, who was forced to resign in 2011 amid questions about her competence, had decided that cancer killed Credit. After a review of the case by two forensic pathologists who concluded that Credit had been physically abused, Mason Weems, the mother’s boyfriend who was babysitting the boy when he fell unconscious, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery of a child. He remains in prison, serving a 20-year sentence.

Credit’s death certificate still says the boy died of natural causes, but Allmon says he expects the Illinois Department of Public Health to approve his request and change the manner of death to homicide.

“I’m just doing my job,” Allmon said. “I want to get it right.”

Allmon said he acted after receiving a request from Sharon Kelley, an attorney who is representing the estate of Jaimeson Cody, who died after a 2021 struggle with Sangamon County jail guards. Kelley also represented the estate of Paul Carlock, whose widow settled a lawsuit against the county for nearly $2.6 million after he died following a 2007 altercation with county jail staff.

“I thought it was the gravest miscarriage of justice for these families,” Kelley says.

Anakin, a seemingly healthy boy, never had been diagnosed with cancer prior to his death. Angela Butler, Anakin’s mother, says that the diagnosis prompted her to have her other children checked for cancer. If the coroner’s office had gotten it right the first time, she added, she likely would not have believed Weems and supported him for as long as she did, visiting him in jail. She notes that Weems was convicted of battery, not murder.

“I truly hope that the death certificate being changed is me getting justice for my son, which is well deserved,” she said.

Richard Burns, Patrick Burns’ brother, recalls asking Allmon to get a forensic pathologist to review his brother’s autopsy report. Shortly after the death, the Burns family had retained a forensic pathologist who opined that Patrick Burns died from asphyxiation.

“He said ‘I’ll go one better than that, I’ll get two,’” Richard Burns said. “He’s got a lot of integrity.”

Dr. Scott Denton and Dr. Nathaniel Patterson independently reached the same conclusion: Burns had suffocated while restrained and prone. In addition, the National Association of Medical Examiners this year decided that excited delirium never should be a cause of death. Excited delirium purportedly occurs when someone, often under the influence of drugs, acts irrationally and dies. It often has been diagnosed as a cause of death when a person dies following a struggle with police.

“Armed with that (NAME decision), I sent it out to my doctors and let them review it and it came back like I said: prone restraint asphyxia,” Allmon said.

Sheriff Jack Campbell did not immediately return a call for comment. In an email, Sangamon County state’s attorney Dan Wright says that he concurs with the conclusion of former state’s attorney John Schmidt, who determined after an Illinois State Police investigation in 2010 that deputies used reasonable force in arresting Burns.

"A death classified as 'homicide' by the coroner under applicable standards established by the National Association of Medical Examiners does not equate to a legal determination that an act of murder, manslaughter or other crime occurred," Sangamon County state's att orney Dan Wright wrote. 

That’s not good enough for Richard Burns.

“What should happen now is that Dan Wright should open an investigation about what happened that night and determine who placed him on the stretcher,” says Richard Burns, who accepted a $40,000 settlement offer from the county after his brother’s death. “Is it justifiable homicide or not? I would argue that it is not. The man was hogtied. He was no threat to anyone.”

Bruce Rushton

Bruce Rushton is a freelance journalist.

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