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Last day on the stand for defendant in 2009 double homicide trial

on November 5, 2012

From the beginning of questioning Monday in Contra Costa Superior Court it became clear that Nathan Burris, who is defending himself against charges he shot and killed two people at the Richmond San Rafael Bridge toll plaza in 2009, wasn’t going to cooperate with Senior Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett.

Jewett stood up to question Burris. “You forgot something,” Jewett said in reference to the binoculars he’d showed the court last week, that he said Burris used to scope out the crime scene.

“They already know I’m guilty,” Burris replied. “Forget about the binoculars. I did it. Why waste time talking about binoculars?”

Throughout the trial, Burris has grown more and more agitated, interjecting at times about the length Jewett has gone to prove his guilt, and saying repeatedly that it’s all a waste of time.

But under cross-examination today, it got to the point where Burris had to reassure the bailiff that he was not a threat. “It’s cool,” Burris said, holding up his hand and dropping his head slightly in a gesture of control.

“I can ask the court to strike all of your testimony,” Jewett said.

“You’re not going to get anywhere with me,” Burris said, and he giggled. He would not say whether or not he looked through the binoculars while waiting for victim Ersie Everette Jr. to arrive at the toll plaza’s parking lot, where Burris had slashed one of his tires.

Jewett — who said earlier he plans to seek the death penalty — said he sees the issue of binoculars differently. To get a death penalty sentence he must prove that Burris did “lie in wait” prior to the killing.

“You heard Detective Rood testify last week that you told him you were looking through binoculars,” Jewett said.

“The only thing that’s true, is that I did it,” Burris said.

Jewett asked him to answer the question. Judge John W. Kennedy, presiding over the case, intervened and also instructed Burris to answer.

Burris looked straight ahead, set his jaw and shook his head side to side indicating he would not answer.

Jewett changed his line of questioning. “Debbie” – the second victim, Burris’s ex-girlfriend Deborah Ross — was moving out of that house wasn’t she?” he asked.

“No,” Burris said.

“You two argued about infidelity?” Jewett asked.

“No,” Burris said.

“On the Friday before you killed her, did you hold her prisoner in your own home?” Jewett asked.

Burris stared straight ahead. He took a few slow sips from his paper water cup, and ignored the question.

Jewett tried a few more questions, but it was clear this time that Burris really was done answering him.

“There’s nothing I can do, Judge,” Jewett said.

“Got that right,” Burris said.  A moment later he smiled and chuckled while leaving the stand and heading back to the defendant’s table.

“Man, what a clown,” Burris said as he sat back down behind the microphone on his table. “I rest my case,” he added.

Jewett then called up his only rebuttal witness, Tyrice Ross, Deborah’s Ross’s older sister.

Tyrice said she and “Debbie” were close. “Debbie called me daily,” she said. “Every Sunday I would see her before church.”

As she spoke Debbie’s smiling face was visible on a large button Tyrice wore over her heart. They had a phone plan, that Deborah paid for, Tyrice said. She described a conversation she had with Deborah the year before she was killed. She said Deborah told her that Burris was having an affair with a woman he met while on the road, and that Deborah and the other woman had confronted Burris about the affair.

“Six months before Debbie passed away, Debbie had came to the agreement that she didn’t want to be in a relationship,” Tyrice said.

Burris’ advisory lawyer, Larry Barnes objected at this point, saying that Jewett had not provided the proper information to the defense regarding Tyrice’s testimony.

Judge Kennedy excused the jurors and started to discuss the legal procedures with Jewett and Barnes when Burris interrupted. “I plead guilty,” he said. “I plead guilty.”

“I’d like to change my plea to guilty,” he continued. “Can I do that? Yes, or no?”

Kennedy declared a brief recess for Burris to talk with Barnes and decide what he wanted to do.

“It’s not clear to me,” Burris said. “All I want to do is take a plea. I don’t need anyone to hold my hand.”

After the break, Burris changed his mind, saying he did not want to plead guilty—that he wants to keep all of his appeals intact.

Tyrice continued her testimony, detailing for the jurors how Debbie was in the process of moving out of the house she shared with Burris in Richmond and into Tyrice’s home. She said that on the Friday before the shooting Debbie had called her and said Nathan wouldn’t let her out of the house.

“He was screaming and hollering in the background,” Tyrice said. She was so worried that she called the Richmond Police Department and told them her sister was being held against her will, but by the time the police arrived Debbie had already arrived at Tyrice’s house.

Re-taking the stand, Burris said that he didn’t hold anybody hostage and that nobody was moving out.

“Why are you smiling?” Jewett asked him.

“Why not? I’m happy to be alive,” Burris said. “You might be disgusted by me, but it is what it is,” he added while looking at the jury.

Once again, Burris assured everyone present in the courtroom that whether he is sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty he doesn’t care. He can take care of himself and in California, he said, he’d be waiting for 20-30 years to be executed anyway.

With that last testimony both sides rested their case. Tuesday, each will have the chance to present their closing arguments the jury.

Before ending court for the day, Kennedy instructed the jury on how to evaluate the case in deliberation tomorrow. Burris is facing two counts of first-degree murder, each with the enhancement of “lying in wait.”

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