3.20.2010

TS - Preliminary hearing gets under way in Sanders case

Preliminary hearing gets under way in Sanders case
Ezra Sanders allegedly had a large amount of cash on him and had purchased an ounce of methamphetamine the day he was shot and killed in front of his McKinleyville home, a friend of his testified at a preliminary hearing Monday.

Sanders, 30, was found shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 24 in sweat pants and a T-shirt, lying in front of his trailer in the Widow White Creek RV Park dead of a single gunshot wound in what investigators have described as a robbery attempt gone wrong.

Witnesses told investigators they heard a vehicle pull up to Sanders' trailer before hearing a gunshot, followed by the sound of a vehicle speeding away.

Back in April, four suspects were arrested in the case and charged with Sanders' murder: Jeffrey Alan Burgess, 39, of Eureka; Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Orleans; Ruben Anthony Peredia, 32, of Eureka; and Tracy Joleen Williams, 35, of Eureka. All four have pleaded not guilty.

Investigators believe the four suspects traveled from Eureka to McKinleyville in a stolen truck, armed with a handgun and a knife and with plans to rob their acquaintance Sanders of cash and drugs. After arriving at the trailer park, Peredia, Burgess and Mace allegedly attempted to rob Sanders while Williams remained in the truck as a lookout, according to Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Detective Troy Garey.

When Sanders resisted the robbery, reportedly raising his fists to fight, Burgess allegedly shot him in the chest and the suspects fled the scene without taking anything, according to investigators. Garey said a large sum of money and a small amount of illicit drugs were found in Sanders' possession.

Monday, Ana Rooney, who described herself as a friend of Sanders' and Burgess', as well as a housemate of Williams', said she saw Sanders early in the morning of Feb. 23 when the two got high together, and that Sanders had a lot of cash on him at the time. Rooney testified that she also acted as a middle man, helping Sanders buy an ounce of methamphetamine for $1,400 that day. After meeting Sanders to give him the methamphetamine around 10 a.m. on Feb. 23, Rooney said she never saw Sanders again, telling the court she learned he had been shot and killed the next day when told by a friend.

While on the stand, Rooney also testified that Williams and Sanders were involved in a relationship together around the time of his death.

”Their relationship was of a sexual nature,” Rooney testified.

After testifying at length about drug use and sales, under cross-examination Rooney accepted an offer from Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna to appoint her an attorney with whom she could discuss her rights. Patrik Griego was then appointed to represent Rooney, who is expected to retake the stand this morning.

Garey also took the stand briefly Monday, testifying about arriving at the crime scene in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, and of his initial interviews with Burgess and Williams. He is also expected to retake the stand today.

Even though Burgess allegedly fired the fatal shot, there is nothing unusual about Peredia, Mace and Williams also facing murder charges, according to University of California Hastings School of Law professor David Levine. He said it doesn't matter who fired the shot that killed Sanders, if all the suspects knew they were participating in an armed robbery.

”It's called felony murder, and the idea is that if you participate in a felony, and a killing results, then you are as responsible as anyone else for the killing,” Levine said in a previous interview with the Times-Standard. “Once you start down the road of participating in a felony, you are responsible for whatever results.”

The preliminary hearing, which is held for a judge to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial, is scheduled to continue today.

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com.