defense suggests entrapment by police use of informant
longtime acquaintance, turned police go-between, first thought Burkholder just wanted sex or drugs
BISBEE – A request by Israel J. Burkholder to be released from jail on his own recognizance was denied by judge Wallace Hoggatt on December 16. The judge also rejected Burkholder’s alternate request for release to a third-party custodian -such as his wife or parents- who would be responsible for ensuring the former Cochise County Sheriff’s deputy appeared at all court proceedings.
Burkholder was arrested November 6 by the Sierra Vista Police Dept. in a hitman-for-hire case that involves an undercover officer, a confidential informant, and sex for money. He is charged with five counts, including conspiracy to commit first degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, and possession of a narcotic. During an initial court appearance on November 7, judge Timothy Dickerson of the Sierra Vista Justice Court set bail at $250,000 as a condition of Burkholder’s release from jail.
A county grand jury indicted Burkholder on November 10 and his case was transferred to judge Hoggatt of the Cochise County Superior Court. On November 18 his court-appointed attorney Eric Manch filed amotion to modify the conditions of release, arg
uing that Burkholder should be released on his own recognizance.
RogerContreras, the deputy county attorney prosecuting the case, called the motion “absurd” and opposed any change of Dickerson’s prior order.
Under the Arizona Rules of CriminalProcedure, most defendants are presumed to have the right to be released on their own recognizance (ROR) pending the resolution of their case. However, the same rules allow judges wide discretion in determining whether ROR is appropriate. The nature of the charges, a defendant’s criminal history and community ties, and the potential sentence a defendant faces are among the many factors a judge might consider.
If a judge decides a defendant must post bail as a condition of release, court rules state the amount should only be what is necessary to “reasonably assure the person’s appearance” in court and their compliance with any other conditions of release.
At the December 16 hearing, Manch noted Burkholder, age 44, served in the military, had been a law enforcement officer, and has two young children to support. Although Burkholder had addiction “struggles” in the past, Manch pointed out this case is his “first serious offense of any kind” and that the Burkholder “is not going anywhere if he’s released.” It was also noted that Burkholder is eager to be released because his wife is facing economic hardships, including difficulty paying the mortgage.
Prosecutor Contreras provided several arguments against granting ROR status to Burkholder, including a “significant amount of concern” involving “not just of flight” but also of harm “to himself and to others.” Contreras noted Burkholder faces “a substantial prison term” if convicted, and therefore the risk of the defendant’s family having to forfeit $250,000 bail is necessary to prevent Burkholder from absconding or “following through” with threats of violence.
The prosecutor also pointed out Burkholder resigned from the sheriff’s office in 2015 when allegations arose of illegal drug use, and that after his arrest police found evidence of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia in the house he shared with his wife and young children.
Contreras questioned the wisdom of allowing Burkholder’s wife or his parents to be third party custodians, as proposed by Manch. However, if the court were interested in that option, Contreras asked judge Hoggatt for an opportunity to properly screen any potential custodian before such a decision were made.
After considering each party’s position, Hoggatt found that the “risk is such” that bail was necessary to ensure Burkholder will appear for the proceedings. The judge also ruled that the seriousness of the charges make $250,000 “an appropriate amount” of bail. At the conclusion of the hearing Burkholder was transported to the Santa Cruz County jail in Nogales where he is being held for security reasons.
Search warrant documents unsealed; defense suggests police entrapment
Last week the Sierra Vista Justice Court released documents [see below] that had been previously sealed by order of judge Dickerson. The documents relate to a search warrant Sierra Vista PD detective Thomas Ransford obtained for Burkholder’s home, vehicle, and cell phone.
The searchwarrant also allowed police to obtain blood samples from Burkholder and his 23 year old daughter Jasmine, who has been charged as a co-conspirator in the hitman-for-hire case.
In the required affidavit submitted to judge Dickerson in application for a search warrant, Ransford noted that Burkholder initially talked with the confidential informant about injuring a man identified in court documents as “M.M.” who had been allegedly abusing Jasmine. The documentsdescribe Burkholder and the female confidential informant as longtime acquaintances.
Shortly after Burkholder’s arrest the informant spoke with the Cochise County Record about the case. The woman – who said she had not heard from Burkholder in “a long time”- initially thought he contacted her for sex or drugs. She described Burkholder as seeming despondent over his personal situation and that of his daughter Jasmine, who has been arrested several times and was believed to be involved in prostitution to support a drug habit.
According to the informant, Burkholder mentioned “doing a Mitchell,” a reference to the recent suicide of former Sierra Vista PD officer Mike Mitchell. But Burkholder was planning to “take some people” with him. She became frightened when Burkholder asked for help planning a violent assault against “M.M.” whom he believed was abusing Jasmine. That is when she contacted the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, who referred the matter to the Sierra Vista PD who was already looking into Burkholder’s alleged drug activity.
Ransford and several officers were assigned to investigate the informant’s statements. In his affidavit, Ransford noted that “Burkholder initially stated he didn’t want to kill, just to cripple” the intended victim M.M. “because he needs to suffer.” However, during later conversations Burkholder purportedly stated “I want him freakin dead I will be honest with you.” There was also discussion by Burkholder of a friend who was willing to shoot the victim if the informant’s out of town contacts found the situation “not worthy” of their help.
Defense attorney Manch suggested during the December 16 hearing that the informant’s efforts on behalf of the Sierra Vista PD to get Burkholder “to go along with” a murder plot “is entrapment.” He also characterized police comments about the conversations as “their interpretation” of what was said.
The informant also told the Cochise County Record that she feared for her personal safety if Burkholder is released from jail and expressed concern about whether the police can protect her if he was out of custody.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and firstname.lastname@example.org
At Burkholder’s initial appearance on November 7, judge Dickerson granted aMotion by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre to seal the search warrant documents. The Motion cited the risk of harm to “the investigation and/or place individuals at risk” if the documents were made public at that time.
A month later, the documents were still not publicly available. After repeated requests, the Cochise County Record obtained the following documents last week: