Burgess pleads guilty to robbery, faces 30 years

Burgess pleads guilty to robbery, faces 30 years

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.

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.”

Staff writer Thadeus Greenson contributed to this report.

Chris Durant/The Times-Standard
Posted: 12/16/2009 01:21:20 AM PST