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Emotional testimony in Richmond-San Rafael bridge double homicide case

on October 31, 2012

Isaac Stephen Ross took the witness stand in Martinez Superior Court Tuesday to testify against Nathaniel Burris in the 2009 double homicide on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in which Ross’s sister Deborah and her friend Ersie “Chuckie” Everette Jr. were killed.

Burris, who is representing himself, is facing first-degree murder charges and Senior Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett has said he’ll seek the death penalty.

Leaning heavily on a wooden cane Ross slowly made his way to the stand, escorted by Jewett.

As Jewett questioned Ross about his relationship with his sister—establishing where they grew up (Oakland) and if he’s her older or younger brother (older by 10 years)—Ross glanced at Burris then looked down at his lap.

“Mr. Ross, please look at me,” Jewett said. Taking a deep breath, Ross focused back on Jewett and his next question.

“Do you remember the last time you saw your sister?” Jewett asked.

“At my mother’s house,” Ross said, and his voice cracked. He wiped his eyes, and continued, describing the family’s habit of getting together at his mom’s house on Sundays after church.

That gathering was the last time he saw his sister alive.

“She asked me, ‘How do you know if somebody’s following you,’” he said. “She said she was worried about Nathan, but I didn’t understand what she meant by that.”

Ross said that while talking with his sister he could tell she was scared. “I could see the fear in her face,” he said.

The day after their conversation, Ross said he was watching the evening news at home when he saw the story about a shooting on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, and knew immediately who was responsible.

“Who did you tell the officer killed Debbie?” Jewett asked.

Ross turned his head, looked directly at Burris and pointed at him. Shaking his head slowly from side to side as he stared at him, Ross answered: “Nathan.”

Burris, who is representing himself, passed on the chance to cross-examine Ross. As Ross was leaving the stand he turned to the jury and started to say something.

“No,” said Jewett, stopping Ross. “The time may come, but it’s not today.”

Ross looked back down and haltingly made his way out of the courtroom.

Jewett continued to call witnesses, going through five lengthy testimonies before the court’s lunch recess.

Burris declined cross-examination until the testimony of his arresting officer, Patrick Michael Henley.

Henley, a California Highway Patrol officer, was working the graveyard shift near Yuba Gap with his partner Officer Lowell Monday when they received a call from the Truckee CHP center alerting them that the minivan Burris was driving—a white Marin Airport Shuttle—had been seen nearby.

“We began a systematic check of the area,” said Henley, describing how they drove up and down Highway 80 exiting and entering every ramp in the area before they came across the minivan parked on a wide dirt shoulder near the Yuba Gap off-ramp.

Henley said that seconds after his partner shone the car’s spotlight on the van, Burris drove off and they followed. The two officers continued to follow him, awaiting a backup unit, he said.

After a few minutes Officer Chris Hussy showed up behind them, Henley said, and they were planning on turning on their emergency lights after they’d followed Burris out of a construction zone. But, the officer said, Burris surprised them.

“The suspect in the vehicle pulled over partially in the slow lane and partially on the shoulder,” Henley said. “The driver exited almost immediately and put his hands in the air.”

After searching Burris, Henley arrested him and drove him to the Placer County jail in Auburn. During the drive, Henley said that without any prompting Burris offered information about his actions over the last day.

“I even told him a couple of times I wasn’t the officer to talk to,” Henley said.

Henley said Burris told him of his plans to go to New York, where he grew up. “He said, he’d fit in better there and it’d make it more difficult for law enforcement to find him,” Henley said.

Burris also wasn’t shy about telling Henley where he’d been.

“He did relate that he stopped at his mom’s, but said there was too much law enforcement and media,” Henley said.

At this point Burris chuckled from his seat. He smiled broadly as Henley recounted Burris’ story of evading the police, and looked amused when Henley answered Jewett’s questions about how hard it was for officers that night to remove Burris’ clothing.

“They had to restrain him on a chair to take his clothes off,” Henley said. He recalled it took a handful of officers and said Burris didn’t want anyone taking them off.

With a big smile, Burris agreed, saying into the microphone in front of him, “Nobody.”

In his cross-examination of Henley, Burris asked him if he knew why he’d been so upset.

“Do you recall why I became belligerent?” Burris asked.

Henley said it seemed Burris didn’t want his clothing removed.

“That’s true,” Burris said. “The reason why the fight broke out was because one deputy was overly aggressive. Maybe he didn’t like me.”

Jewett said he plans to rest his case Wednesday, and Burris will then have his chance to defend himself.

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