◼ 'Shoot him, shoot him': Murder suspect describes robbery attempt gone awry
One of the four suspects accused of murdering a McKinleyville man in February took the witness stand Monday, describing in detail the botched robbery attempt that allegedly led to the shooting.
Having accepted a plea bargain, Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Orleans, fingered Jeffrey Allan Burgess, 39, of Eureka, as the man who likely shot Ezra Sanders, 30, at Sanders' home.
Sanders was found shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 24 lying in front of his trailer in the Widow White Creek RV Park, dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. Humboldt County District Attorney Investigator Steve Dunn testified Monday that a witness told him she was awakened by a loud bang that morning, and looked out her window in time to see a pickup truck speeding from the scene.
In April, Burgess and Mace were arrested and charged with Sanders' murder along with two other suspects: Tracey Joleen Williams, 35, and Ruben Anthony Peredia, 32, both of Eureka. Mace reached a plea deal last week in which he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed to testify against his codefendants. Under the deal, Mace faces a maximum of six years in prison, according to Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin.
Williams, Burgess and Peredia have all pleaded not guilty.
During a preliminary hearing Monday, Mace described in detail the events that led him to Sanders' trailer in the early morning hours of Feb. 24.
Mace said he first met Burgess 15 or 16 years ago, but didn't see him again until the evening of Feb. 23, when a friend brought him to Burgess' Lewis Avenue home in Eureka looking to buy heroin. Mace said he met Peredia and Williams that night.
Informed there was no heroin for sale at the house, Mace said Burgess agreed to drive him and his friend to a house where the friend believed she could purchase heroin. His friend left Burgess and Mace waiting in the car and entered the house with $40 or $60 of Mace's money, Mace said. His friend didn't return to the car and, eventually, he and Burgess left to return to the Lewis Avenue house, he said.
Mace testified that after he spent some time at the house, and ingested methamphetamine, Burgess, Peredia and Williams prepared to leave. Not wanting to be left in a house he didn't know and not knowing where the group was headed, Mace said he asked Burgess if he could come with them.
”Burgess said: 'You need to ask Ruben. It's Ruben's deal,'” Mace testified, adding that when he asked Peredia if he could come along, Peredia asked him what he wanted out of the deal. “He said, 'What do you want, a couple of hundred bucks out of the deal?' I said, 'No, I just want to get out of the house.'”
Mace said he thought the three were going to “take some wheels or something,” but did not know what their plans were when he left the house. He said all four of them got into a bluish-green, four-door Chevrolet pickup truck and started heading north to McKinleyville.
Peredia was driving the truck, Mace testified, until Jacobs Avenue, where he pulled over to let Burgess drive, saying he was tired.
Mace said it wasn't until they got to the McKinleyville trailer park, and Peredia disabled the dome light in the cab of the truck, that he asked what was going on.
He testified that one of his cohorts then told him they were going to rob someone.
Mace testified that Burgess then pulled the truck up next to Sanders' trailer, and Mace, Burgess and Peredia got out, leaving Williams alone in the truck. Mace said he approached Sanders' trailer with the two men, and Peredia knocked on the door.
When Sanders answered, Mace said Peredia set foot on the trailer's steps, threatening Sanders with a knife, at which point Sanders stepped back into the trailer and appeared to reach for something.
”That's when Ruben stepped back and said, 'Shoot him, shoot him,'” Mace testified, adding that he then heard a gunshot go off behind him, from where Burgess was standing, and saw Sanders fall back into the trailer and out of sight. “Jeff and Ruben took off running and I kind of stood there in awe. Then, I started running right behind them.”
In the truck on the drive back down to the Lewis Avenue home in Eureka, Mace said Williams said she was going to return to the scene.
”On the way back down she said she's going to go back,” Mace testified.
”For what?” McLaughlin asked.
”To rob him or to try to rob him,” Mace answered.
After arriving back at the Lewis Avenue home, Mace said Peredia left to take the truck somewhere and that Williams left to return to McKinleyville, leaving him and Burgess behind. He said Burgess dismantled and cleaned the .45-caliber handgun that Mace believed he'd used to shoot Sanders.
Mace's testimony conflicted slightly with that of Ana Rooney, who testified earlier in the preliminary hearing that she was friends with Sanders and lived with Burgess and Williams. Rooney testified that Mace began to stay at the Lewis Avenue home before the shooting. Mace testified that he'd never been to the house until Feb. 23, when he was brought there by his friend.
”She just simply brought me there to buy some drugs,” Mace testified.
Mace is expected to retake the stand this morning when the preliminary hearing -- held to determine if there is enough evidence to hold the defendants to stand trial -- is scheduled to continue.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.