Bail set at $200,000 for Bozeman casino robbery suspect

Duane Burchill

Whitney Bermes/Chronicle

Citing his lengthy criminal history and issues with drugs and alcohol, a Gallatin County District Court judge sentenced a Bozeman man to half a century in prison for twice robbing a casino within a week in 2016.

“The circumstances of this crime are outrageous, aggravated and intolerable,” District Court Judge Holly Brown said when sentencing 47-year-old Duane Burchill to 50 years in the Montana State Prison. “There is nothing to mitigate the violent nature of what the defendant did to the staff and customers of the Magic Diamond Casino.”

Tuesday’s sentence came after a jury, following a three-day trial in August, found Burchill guilty of two counts of robbery and single counts of conspiracy to commit deceptive practices and criminal possession of dangerous drugs, all felonies. The 50-year sentence includes 10 additional years because Burchill used a gun in the robberies.

Brown’s sentence included the caveat that Burchill complete chemical dependency treatment and anger management and criminal thinking programs before he is eligible for parole. He was also ordered to pay $1,484 in restitution to the casino. He received credit for 503 days already served in jail.

Burchill was arrested in September 2016 after an informant identified Burchill as the armed suspect who robbed the Magic Diamond Too Casino, once on Sept. 18 and again on Sept. 24.

The casinos were robbed by a suspect who wore a mask that resembled Jack Skellington, a character in the animated movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and brandished a handgun.

The suspect got away with approximately $1,500 in the two robberies.

The informant later told police that Burchill asked him to pick him up in a subdivision behind the Gallatin Valley Mall, near where the robbery occurred.

Burchill came running up to the vehicle carrying a wad of money and shoved a Jack Skellington mask under the seat, the informant said.

Burchill was also seen on surveillance video using a credit card stolen from a woman’s shopping cart at Wal-Mart. The card was used to make hundreds of dollars worth of purchases at Bozeman stores.

Burchill was eventually arrested when he came to the Law and Justice Center on an unrelated matter.

During an initial search of his home and vehicle, Bozeman police found a Jack Skellington mask, handgun ammunition and clothing matching the description of the suspect in the two robberies. A gun matching the description of the one used in the robbery was later found in a truck, stuffed in a glove that had traces of Burchill’s DNA inside.

Investigators also found drug paraphernalia with residue that tested positive for meth.

During his trial last fall, Burchill claimed that he was framed by the informant and that Bozeman police conducted an unfair and shoddy investigation. The informant was not a credible witness, the defense argued, and law enforcement ignored all other leads and didn’t interview other suspects reported by citizens, the defense said.

At a hearing late last month, Gallatin County Deputy Attorney Bjorn Boyer, who prosecuted the case, asked for a 50-year sentence. Like Brown, Boyer pointed to Burchill’s “extremely concerning” adult criminal history, which dates back to 1989 and includes numerous misdemeanor and felony convictions for things like robbery, theft, DUI and criminal mischief.

“He’s been an offender his entire adult life,” Boyer said. “I think we are well past second chances and a little bit of mercy.”

On the other hand, Burchill’s defense attorney Jack Sands asked that Burchill be sentenced to 15 years with the Montana Department of Corrections with 10 of those years suspended. Family and friends of Burchill’s testified that he is a loving father, hard worker and could thrive under supervision and structure.

“He’s worth it. He matters,” his mother told Brown.

Burchill also asked for leniency from Brown. “I’m not a dangerous, violent person,” he said.

He acknowledged he has “serious” issues with drug and alcohol addictions. But he noted that he had been attending programs in the jail to help with those issues.

“I’d like to be a better man when I get out,” Burchill said.

On Tuesday, Brown disagreed, calling Burchill a “dangerous and violent” repeat felony offender who needed long-term incarceration.

After the brief hearing Tuesday, Burchill mouthed the word, “Wow” before waving to his supporters as he was taken out of the courtroom by a Gallatin County sheriff’s deputy.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Whitney Bermes covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.

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