Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One thing done right (and yet another plea bargain)

Another plea deal. Murder to 'first degree robbery.' For the shooter. But at least this time the victim's family was kept apprised. The way it should have been done in the Whitmill/Flores case.

Another defendant in the killing of Ezra Sanders entered a guilty plea in Superior Court on Monday and is looking at a sentence of 30 years in prison.

The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office said Jeffrey Alan Burgess, 39, of Eureka, entered the plea to first degree robbery with special allegations that include acting in concert with two or more persons and personally discharging a firearm during the commission of a felony. Burgess' murder trial was in the jury selection process when he changed his plea.

He will have to serve 25 years of the sentence before being eligible for release, Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin said, adding that 30 years is the largest determinant sentence possible.

McLaughlin said that, throughout settlement talks, he was in close contact with the victim's father, Charles Sanders.

”Every substantive discussion I had with defense counsel, I always checked with Mr. Sanders,” McLaughlin said.
“We had an idea of where Mr. Sanders wanted to see the case resolved in terms of years of incarceration, and that's what we tried to accommodate. ... I had always thought that 30 years sounded appropriate for Mr. Burgess, given his age.”

Ruben Anthony Peredia, 32, of Eureka and Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Orleans, entered guilty pleas in August to voluntary manslaughter. Mace and Peredia face up to six years in prison, but part of Mace's plea agreement requires him to testify against the others.

A fourth defendant, Tracey Joleen Williams, 35, of Eureka, is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 4.

Burgess' sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Ruben Anthony Peredia, 32, of Eureka and Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Orleans, entered guilty pleas in August to voluntary manslaughter. Mace and Peredia face up to six years in prison, but part of Mace's plea agreement requires him to testify against the others.

A fourth defendant, Tracey Joleen Williams, 35, of Eureka, is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 4.
Burgess' sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Sanders was found lying in front of his trailer in the Widow White Creek RV Park in McKinleyville shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 24. He was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Mace's testimony at a preliminary hearing in the case indicated that he and the other three drove to McKinleyville to rob Sanders. Sanders resisted and appeared to be reaching for something inside his trailer. That is when Burgess shot him, Mace testified.

McLaughlin said there were some concerns regarding the admissibility of a confession Burgess gave law enforcement officers before his arrest, as Burgess' defense attorney, Neal Sanders, had argued that Burgess wasn't properly Mirandized during the interview. Much of the confession was thrown out during Burgess' preliminary hearing, and McLaughlin said there was a concern that ruling would have been upheld, or even extended, at trial.

”It would have been tough going,” he said of trying the case without Burgess' confession.

Neal Sanders said his client ultimately opted to take the plea deal because he, one day, hopes to walk out of prison a free man.

”It is a determinant term for him, which means he will actually be able to get out of custody,” said Neal Sanders, adding that would not have been the case if Burgess had been convicted of any degree of murder charges. “Nowadays, people with life sentences don't walk out of prison, ever.”

Gee thanks, Neal. The killer wants to walk out a free man.


  1. He admits that he went there, shot the guy in the heart and robbed him. All he gets is robbery?

    At least this deputy spoke with the victim's family, but plea bargaining it to robbery is chicken shit. It is lame and wrong and this crap has got to stop. It is just plain dangerous for the community and lazy of the DA's office.

  2. Compared side-by-side, I agree that the plea looks bad: a murder for robbery. Given that Mr. Burgess will likely die in prison, or alternatively get out at 65-years-of-age, I don't see this disposition as a danger to the community.

    Thirty years in the bank is better than losing a motion to suppress and having no case at all. While Mace says that Mr. Burgess shot Ezra Sanders, PC1111 requires that Mr. Mace's testimony be independently corroborated and that the crime itself is not corroboration. If Mr. Burgess' statement was excluded, as it apparently was at the preliminary hearing, then it would seem hard to corroborate Mr. Mace's testimony. Thirty years is a long time.

  3. dead is forever.

  4. About McLaughlin folks,

    Burgess confessed to the killing of Saunders AFTER being read his Miranda rights. There were actually 3 different statements given by him. One where he came into the station and denied everything and the last where after being mirandized he admitted everything.

    Way to go DA’s office, plea bargain it to robbery instead of murder. Don’t we all feel safe.

    Then if that is not enough, McLaughlin goes onto Facebook and tells the Sheriff’s Office to “kiss his ass” if they don’t like it. (A hardcopy is circling the courthouse on all floors and hopefully will get to the Times Standard.)

    Who will get the next sweet deal? Folks in McK are not going to like it when another murderer walks with manslaughter for the premeditated killing of his wife.

  5. Link? Or send me a scan... email address is in the sidebar.....

  6. Ben McLaughlin12/18/2009 11:15 PM

    To 11:11 and anyone else who thinks I suck: This has gone on long enough.

    Apparently, you know more about the case than I do. I'm just lazy. It's not like I spent
    Thanksgiving away from my baby to prepare the case...

    There were three statements from Mr. Burgess (as 11:11 seems to know): the first was nothing; the second a possible Miranda violation; and the third, post-Miranda inadmissible, should the court have decided the second statement was violative of Mr. Burgess' rights. (See US Supreme Court case law in re two stage interrogation.) I won't go into the facts, but 11:11 seems to know everything, so he/she won't dispute that it was 17 minutes in between the second and third statements; and the first statement from law eforcement (third interview), prior to Miranda, was "we need to clarify some of the things you just discussed." (See US Supreme Court case Siebert).

    Judge Cissna threw out the portion of Mr. Burgess' regarding the robbery. With what Cissna left in, 2nd degree murder was a good bet. Possibly felony murder, if the "flipped" co-defendant was credible to a jury. That said, the issue would have been litigated again, before a different judge, a judge who might have tossed everything.

    Perhaps, it would have been better to say "screw it" and let everything ride on the new judge's ruling. If, however, that ruling excluded more than what Cissa did, we would have had no case at all, period (PC1111).

    Now, the dispostion. Notwithstanding it was what the family wanted, the community at large is not in jeopardy. Mr. Burgess will die in prison; if he doesn't die in prison, he will be 65.5 years old when he gets out.

    If the family said, "Burgess should serve 10 years," the answer would have been, "no." The victim's father was absolutely agaist life in prison. He wanted Burgess to serve 25 years, which he will.

    I'd heard some second hand information that someone at the SO was upset about the plea to robbery. Apparently, that person didn't understand that Mr. Burgess agreed to 30 years. That has all been addressed. The issue is done.

    I did post something on my Facebook. It was stupid and unprofessional. Apologies were exchanged on both sides today. I respect law enforcement and the thankless job they do. I should have addressed the issue with the person myself, rather than spouting off on Facebook. I have already apologized--and do so here--to anyone that I offended.

    I encourage you, 11:11, to post my Facebook and/or give it to the Times-Standard. And I would be happy to respond with the apology I got from the Undersheriff. It's a stupid game you play, and I'm sure we'd like you to identify yourself.

    I'm reachable via couty email and am always happy to discuss my cases.

    Ben McLaughlin, DDA.

  7. Thanks for the clarification, Mr. McLaughlin. It is very much appreciated.

    I do understand your point, and appreciate the very difficult job you do.

    And I thank you for your efforts to keep the victim's family in the loop, and your consideration of his wishes. It matters.

  8. And, incidentally - I will NOT be posting your Facebook link. And I will be deleting it if anyone does post it. I recommend you keep it separate from your professional life. The online world can be a dangerous and nasty place. It seduces people into feeling safe to let the cathartic feelings out, but it is not safe.

    Downgrading a cold-blooded face-to-face murder to burglary is - as you know - hard for us to understand. Which is why people are upset. But for this case at least, it is nice to know the reason.

    I thank you again.

  9. In many ways Ben McLaughlin is what I am talking about when I take exception to Garr Neilsen's 'investment' piece.

    He is one of many hard working public servants - the Deputy DA's - who put in long hours, with no overtime pay, who think the people for whom they work care about them and what they do.

    Come to find out - as we lost almost all of our experienced Deputy DA's, they found that the people didn't know, didn't care and wouldn't raise a finger, not to prevent their firing, protect them from bad treatment, or even to issue a farewell proclamation thanking them for their service as the Board of Supervisors routinely does.

    At the very least, you would have thought Bonnie Neely, who knew full well the measure and decency of people like Worth Dikeman and Allison Jackson, Rob Wade and Andrew Isaac would have made offered some acknowledgement.

    But then there's alot that makes no sense. These are the people who would fight for you, for your right to good treatment at work, yet they will not stand up for themselves, and would not speak out publicly about the turmoil in the DA's office because they did not want to hurt the people who were still there.

    I made a point of talking to people who left - in part to check my facts.

    What I found was these are people with a very high sense of the importance of their work and the importance of its impact on victims and society, and yes, even for the accused. There is a very high ethical standard, and they are deeply proud.

    The case loads are astronomically heavy, especially now that there are so few remaining to carry the load - and right now there are very few with the experience needed for murder cases.

    It's a thankless job.

    And last election, people chose the candidate who not only could not fix it, but refuses to fix it.

    And that is very sad, but it is an indicator of what people are choosing to 'invest' in.

    It isn't law enforcement, it isn't victim's rights - it's entertainment, it's 'causes' like 'get Palco' and sympathy for the offenders instead of those they harm.

  10. McLaughlin, I can't believe what you have written. I have been involved with the criminal justice system for about 30 years.
    There is no perfect case. All of them have issues. This one was actually no different than the issues I have seen in so many other cases. What is different is the rush to get a safe plea instead of a trial. As for your thanksgiving, I can think of a couple of former attorneys from your office that were actually called away from their thanksgiving meal over a homicide and didn't see home for a couple of days just like the deputies who were with them working on warrants and securing the scene. They didn't complain, it was their job. Think about it.

  11. Ben McLaughlin1/17/2010 12:39 AM

    I agree, there is no perfect case.

    There is, however, a case where the outcome of a single ruling dictates the result. Judge Cissna already excluded much of Burgess' statement at the preliminary hearing. It would have been litigated again, admittedly.

    Perhaps, I'm an ass. Maybe I should have said, "FU!" and tried the case... If the trial judge ruled for the People, we win. If the trial judge ruled the same as Cissna, then it would have been 2nd degree murder. However, were the trial judge to say "all of it's out," we would have no case at all.

    You are obviously more macho than I am. I took 30 years in the hand, rather than risking everything. Perhaps that makes me a coward, which I accept, knowing that Burgess is going to be in prison for 25.5 years.

    You also missed something... I did not complain that I missed Thanksgiving. I said that only to say that I was prepared to try the case. Everyone sacrifices, I get that.


Comments are open, but moderated, for the time-being. Good luck.