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A Richmond man who gunned down his ex-girlfriend and her friend on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza because he believed the pair was romantically involved was sentenced to death today. Nathan Burris, 49, received the sentence after a lengthy, tense and oftentimes emotional hearing in a Martinez courtroom this morning. The sentence comes two months after a jury convicted Burris on capital murder charges and returned a death sentence for the double murder of Deborah Ross, 51, of Richmond, and San Leandro man Ersie “Chuckie” Everette,” 58 on the busy bridge toll plaza during peak evening commute hours on Aug. 11, 2009.
The defendant, who represented himself at trial, reminded the court this morning that he has admitted since his arrest to stalking Everette, a Golden Gate Transit bus driver, and ambushing him with a shotgun in his parked truck on the toll plaza, shooting him multiple times in the head and chest. By his own admission, he then ran to the tollbooth where Ross was working and shot her to death.
The defendant reiterated in court today, as he did throughout the trial, that he has no remorse for the killings, often smiling and laughing between comments. “I’m not concerned about what happened three and a half years ago — it’s in the past,” he said. “I made my choice, I have to live with it every day. I’m not going to sit here and beg for my life,” Burris told the court. At times, family members of the victims who attended today’s hearing stood up and left the courtroom as the defendant spoke.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett said today that the trial has been difficult because the court and family members “have been treated every day to that same kind of hateful arrogance that undoubtedly precipitated the crime itself.” Burris also shared his oft-repeated view that it didn’t matter if he receives the death penalty, because he believes legal battles over the penalty in the state of California make his execution unlikely.
“You’ve made yourself very clear that you don’t believe the death penalty will be carried out, and only time will tell whether you are right,” Judge John W. Kennedy told the defendant today. Nonetheless, the judge imposed that very sentence for two first-degree murder convictions with special circumstances because the crime was committed while lying in wait and because Burris was convicted for multiple first-degree murders.
“He has shown the world … that he is capable of justifying the murder of anyone, from a loved one to a complete stranger, if he is offended by their conduct,” the judge said, adding that Burris “consistently displayed a lack of human empathy.” But Burris did not show any mental deficiency that would prevent him from understanding the criminality of his acts, nor did he act in self-defense or in the heat of passion when he killed Ross and Everette in cold blood.
Despite the defendant’s admonitions during the trial and today that the state is wasting time by waiting to execute him, he repeatedly dragged out the sentencing proceedings, making long, rambling statements and requesting breaks to speak to his attorney. Before handing down the sentence, the court also heard from several of the victims’ family members, who fondly remembered their lost loved ones and wondered aloud how Burris could slaughter them.
Deborah Ross was a kind-hearted woman devoted to her family members, to her church and to helping those in need, her three sisters and two nephews told the court. Throughout her life, she would take in both stray animals and people she cared about, Ross’s older sister, Jane Gray Walker, said. “I’m a recovering addict — my sister tried to help me for a number of years…’til I got myself together,” she said.
Walker said her sister showed that same sense of caring for Burris, whom she dated for over a decade. Eventually, however, Ross grew tired of Burris’s “calculating ways,” Walker said. Another of the victim’s sisters, Tyrice Ross, read aloud from a card that Everette had given Ross before their deaths. “‘When I see you, I see a wonderful woman with a kind and caring heart that is beautiful in every sense of the word,'” she read from the card. Everette, a Golden Gate Transit bus driver, was also remembered by family today as a thoughtful person who was deeply invested in his family and his church, where he was preparing to become a deacon.
Kenneth Everette, the victim’s younger brother, recalled tearfully how his brother helped him when he was struggling and homeless. “He was so excited to see me in church, changing my life,” Everette said, his voice choked with emotion. “The love he showed me — and I know I didn’t deserve it all the time — but he gave it to me. That’s the kind of brother he was.” Ronald Everette said today that he believes his brother and Ross are united “in eternal life” and that Burris’s sentencing is a chance at closure and healing for both families.
Another of Everette’s brothers, Dannie Hollans, discussed the rage he has felt listening to testimony from his brother’s killer. “That was such a small and cowardly thing to do,” he said. Albert Gray, one of Ross’s nephews, told the court today that he hopes California law does not prevent Burris from being put to death as the defendant predicts. “The people of California decided to keep the death penalty — they need to step up and exercise it,” he said. Burris is the first defendant to be sentenced to death in Contra Costa County since Edward Wycoff, a Sacramento County man convicted of murder for fatally stabbing and beating his sister and her husband in El Cerrito in 2006.
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