Death row inmate should have leniency due to dementia diagnosis, his attorneys say

Can a convicted killer escape death row because he can't remember his crime? That's a question a Manatee County judge will have to consider.

Daniel Burns has been on death row in Florida for more than 20 years. Now, his attorneys say the 73-year-old has dementia and can't remember the crime he committed, or why he's being punished.

His lawyers are petitioning to have MRI and PET scans performed in order to determine the extent of deterioration in his brain. They've also included the testimony of two psychiatrists who said -- based on cognitive testing -- that Burns is suffering from dementia and declining cognitive ability. Under those circumstances, his attorneys argue, execution would be considered cruel and unusual punishment, and a violation of his fifth amendment rights.

The case dates back more than 30 years to the summer of 1987.

Trooper Jeffrey Young, a member of the narcotics squad with the Florida Highway Patrol, pulled Burns over in Manatee County and found drugs in his car. When he tried to arrest the man things went awry. Burns was able to get Young's service handgun away from him and then turned it on the officer.

RELATED: Slain trooper's father receives award for WWII service

Young, a 28-year-old husband and father, ended up on his knees, begging for his life. Burns then shot him in the face.

Burns was sentenced to death for the slaying, but, since then, his attorneys have fought to try to get his death sentence overturned. Time and again, Burns' appeals have been denied, but he hasn't exhausted all appeals.

A similar case is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Associated Press, justices in October seemed willing to extend protection from capital punishment to prisoners with dementia.