Lead investigator explains process in Burns murder case
September 10, 2009
WOLFEBORO — The community is not forgetting the murder of Stacey Burns, mother of five, age 41 at her death, and it's not forgetting that the murderer, yet to be identified, is still at large. Persumably, it was not an act of random violence. Statistics show that in New Hampshire, 95 percent of homicide victims are known by their killers.
Even though the public has been reassured by the police that citizens are not in likely danger themselves, speculation continues. When will justice be served? Who is walking among us feigning innocence?
In response to queries to the Granite State News, we asked the lead investigator of the New Hampshire State Police Major Crime Unit, Steve Howland, to explain the official silence on the investigation and what part, if any, the public can play in solving the crime.
Though it is frustrating for the public to deal with the uncertainty, Howland says, his officers have to maintain silence concerning particulars, including the names of suspects, on the murder of Burns to protect "the integrity of the case." Information that might lead to an arrest needs to be kept quiet, and knowledge gained from evidence to be used in a trial must be protected for effective use in court to gain a conviction.
Howland says his investigators rely strictly on fact, not rumors, and it takes time to build a case. Generally speaking, he says, it can take up to six months or longer to process DNA in the lab. Unlike TV shows like CSI, evidence can not necessarily be processed immediately. The reality is that there are many demands on the lab, and if evidence has to be sent to a private lab, it can take even longer to get test results back.
It's a matter of logistics, says Howland, not necessarily a lack of evidence, that can protract a case.
He also reminds people that there is no statue of limitations on murder, but once an arrest is made, the clock starts ticking. The state has to be ready to proceed through arraignment and probable cause hearings to trial in a timely manner to protect the rights of the accused.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin has brought up the issue of double jeopardy in past conversation with the Granite State News. He has explained that a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same murder, so the state has to be prepared to make its case for conviction just once.
The decision to move forward will ultimately come from Strelzin when he is satisfied that the work of the investigative team is complete.
Howland estimates that the crime unit has expended 1,500 hours on the case so far. Dozens of people have been interviewed, and the process continues, with leads coming in regularly. He says he checks the folder at the Wolfeboro Police Department containing confidential statements and potential leads almost daily and invites any one who wants to share information to come forward.
The number of the Major Crime Unit is 271-2663. Anonymous tips may be written or typed and dropped off at the Wolfeboro Police Department or put in an envelope and sent to Howland's attention at the Division of State Police, Investigative Services Bureau, Major Crime Unit, 33 Hazen Drive, Concord, New Hampshire 03305.