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Jury indicts murder suspect in 1993 Moorhead trailer park slaying

Clarence Michael Burcham

A Clay County District Court grand jury has indicted Clarence Michael Burcham on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Sharon Stafford 16 years ago.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said he is aware of only one penalty for someone convicted of first-degree murder in Minnesota: life in prison.

The grand jury met in secret for about 2½ days before handing down the indictment late Wednesday afternoon.

Burcham, 44, already in custody on a second-degree murder charge filed earlier in the case, made a court appearance before Judge Lisa Borgen, who continued conditions for release at $1 million bond or $250,000 cash bail.

The first-degree murder charge alleges Burcham caused Stafford's death while committing or attempting to commit a sexual assault with force or violence.

The grand jury indictment also charges Burcham with second-degree murder, claiming he intentionally caused Stafford's death but without premeditation.

That charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years.

Burcham and Stafford were neighbors in a Moorhead mobile home park in 1993, when Burcham reported finding Stafford's body in her home on Nov. 2 that year.

Burcham told police Stafford had attended a party at his home the night before, but over time he provided different accounts of what transpired that night.

Prosecutors filed no charges at the time and the case grew cold, until this summer when a Moorhead police detective traveled to Burcham's home in Center, N.D., to again question him about the case.

Court documents state Burcham confessed to having had sex with Stafford before strangling her with an electrical cord.

Burcham said he killed Stafford after she called him retarded, according to the court documents.

Burcham has hired a Twin Cities defense attorney, but he was represented at a hearing earlier this summer by Bruce Ringstrom, a Clay County public defender.

Ringstrom said in court that Burcham could be made to agree to anything, adding he had talked Burcham into believing that he, referring to himself, was the father of President Barack Obama.

Melton said prosecuting a 16-year-old case presents challenges, but he said he felt it was necessary for the grand jury to weigh evidence investigators had gathered.

"It's a serious case, and the allegations are serious. You can't not take it forward," he said.