Nathan Burris, 49, was sentenced to death Tuesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez for the double murder of Deborah Ann Ross, 51, and Ersie “Chuckie” Everette Jr., 58.
For the families of the victims, the sentence brought to an end weeks of listening to taunts from the man who killed their loved ones in the 2009 shooting on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Burris and Ross had been living together in Richmond prior to the slaying. Ross’s family members say that Ross had recently ended their 13-year relationship and was planning on moving in with one of her sisters when Burris killed her.
Throughout the trial, Burris represented himself and when he called his only witness for his defense—himself—he used the time on the stand to detail his exact moves on August 11, 2009.
“When you’re going on a mission like I was going on, you want to be successful,” Burris told the jury as he used magnets on the white board behind the stand to show them where he parked his car in the toll plaza parking lot and how he planned it out.
Ross was a tollbooth taker at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. On the day of the killing, a Tuesday, Ross drove to work in Everette’s truck (the two had started dating a few months earlier) because he was taking her car to fix a broken windshield. She parked in the lot reserved for workers, between eastbound and westbound lanes on the Richmond side of the bridge and went into her booth for the day—tollbooth number 3.
Burris drove to the plaza and slashed Everette’s front truck tire. Burris said that after he slashed the tire he went across the bridge and checked with one of Ross’s coworkers to see what booth she was working in that day. He then went to make a couple of drop-offs. His plan, he said, was to lure Everette to the bridge and kill him because he was jealous of the growing relationship between Everette and Ross.
Despite the breakup, Burris said during the trial that he still considered Ross “his” because they were living together and he felt it was his right to protect his property. He also said he felt threatened by a phone conversation he had with Everette—but he never elaborated on the threat.
Without remorse, or apology, Burris—despite entering a plea of not guilty—has admitted numerous times to the murders.
The first admission of guilt, in front of the jury, was on October 31 during the guilt phase of the capital-murder trial.
“I did it,” Burris said, after Judge John Kennedy asked him if he had any objections to Senior Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett moving autopsy pictures into evidence. “So what? I shot them.”
Burris, Jewett said in his closing statement, is a cold-blooded murderer, an evil man and probably a sociopath.
Jeffery Tibbetts, a juror on the case, said that the jury came to a slightly different conclusion about Burris’s mentality.
“The jury felt more that he was really a narcissistic psychopath,” Tibbetts said. “Emotionally it was wrenching to deal with the loss of two people and the graphic testimony. We did not arrive at the sentence of death without a lot of deliberation.”
Many of Burris’s comments throughout the trial, and especially during cross-examination of witnesses, were chilling. Following over an hour of testimony from Dr. Ikechi Ogan, the pathologist who performed the autopsies on Ross and Everette, Burris asked him just two questions: “The man that was shot, his neck was twisted,” Burris said. “Was that good shooting?”
And then: “The woman, was it good shooting?”
Ross’s and Everette’s family members have sat in the gallery throughout the trials, sometimes sobbing softly in their seats, other times muttering in anger, but mostly just watching quietly as the man who killed their loved ones mocked the murders, California’s penalty system, and them.
When the sentence was read in court today, family members of the victims celebrated quietly at first with smiles and nods—until Burris tried to have the last word.
After the jury was excused, Judge John Kennedy asked Burris if he was wanted to set his formal sentencing date for 20 days out. Burris said that date—December 18—was fine, but he said he had a few more comments.
“I’m going to death row,” Burris said. “But there is no death penalty. I’m fine with it.”
“They’re dead,” he said of Everette and Ross. “F—them!”
Everette’s brothers, who were seated behind Burris in the gallery, started chuckling at his outburst.
Turning in his seat to face the brothers for the first time in the month-long process, Burris said, “I blew your brother’s brains out. There’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Bailiffs converged on Burris and the brothers asking them to calm down. But Burris continued.
“Your brother’s got a bullet in his brain,” he yelled as the bailiffs cuffed him and lead him out of the courtroom.
Even that last outburst, the family said outside of the courtroom, didn’t matter to them.
“That’s a scared man talking,” said Kenneth Everette, Ersie’s brother. “That’s a scared dead man talking.”
Throughout the process the family has said they’d prefer that Burris get life in prison, but today they were celebrating the end of the trial and seemed glad the jury gave him the stiffest penalty possible.
“I’m excited. I’m happy because it’s over,” Ronald Everette said. “He’s never going to hurt anyone ever again.”
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Ola Hollans, Ersie’s mother.
“Ersie will always be in my heart,” she said as she tapped her chest lightly. “He’ll always be in my heart.”
Deborah Ross’s sister Jane Gray-Walker said she’s glad she won’t have to hear about the murders ever day now.
“It’s closure,” she said.
“I want him to die,” she added. “I hugged all of the jurors.”
Burris will be formally sentenced on December 18, and Ross’s and Everette’s family say they’ll attend the sentencing for the opportunity to tell Burris about the pain he’s caused.
Burris will join the 18 other Contra Costa County death row inmates in San Quentin, waiting for lethal injection. The last man convicted in the county, Edward Wycoff, also represented himself. He was sentenced to death on December 8, 2009 but has not been executed yet.