3.20.2010

TS - (Lukus Mace) Suspect pleads in McKinleyville murder case

Suspect pleads in McKinleyville murder case
One of the four suspects accused of murdering a McKinleyville man in February has reached a plea deal and agreed to testify against the other defendants in the case.

Late Wednesday, Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Orleans, agreed to plead guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the Feb. 24 killing of Ezra Sanders and agreed to testify against the other three defendants in the case, according to prosecutor Ben McLaughlin.

”Mr. Mace will be testifying as a witness of the people against the remaining co-defendants,” McLaughlin said, adding that, if he follows through with his part of the deal, Mace faces up to six years in prison.

Mace's attorney, Marek Reavis, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Sanders, 30, 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. 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.

In April, Mace, Jeffrey Alan Burgess, 39, of Eureka; Ruben Anthony Peredia, 32, of Eureka; and Tracey Joleen Williams, 35 of Eureka, were arrested and charged with Sanders' murder. Burgess, Peredia and Williams have all pleaded not guilty.

Investigators have said Sanders was found with $3,000 in cash and a small amount of drugs in his possession, and that they believe the murder was the result of an attempted robbery gone bad. Testimony at a preliminary hearing Thursday supported that belief.

Sandra Adams testified that she met Williams while the two were in custody at the Humboldt County jail. Adams said that, over the span of a couple of weeks, Williams told her about the Sanders case.

”She started volunteering information,” Adams testified about her conversations with Williams. “She pretty much said that it was her idea and that she set the whole thing up.”

Adams testified that Williams said she noticed a large amount of money in Sanders' wallet when he was at her house Feb. 23 looking to buy some methamphetamine. She said Williams told her she thought Sanders would be an easy target.

Adams said Williams told her she stayed in the car as a lookout while the three men she was with approached Sanders' trailer, armed with a knife and a gun, to rob him. From the truck, Adams said Williams told her that she heard some arguing and someone yelling “shoot him” before the three men came running back to the car.

”(Williams') comment (to the men) was, 'Did you get anything out of it?' and they said 'no,'” Adams testified. “And, her comment was, 'You guys can't do anything right.'”

Adams testified that Williams told her she returned to Sanders' home later that night with the hopes of following through with the robbery, but police were on scene when she arrived. She also testified that Williams told her that she and Sanders had a sexual relationship, and that they had had sex the morning of Feb. 23, less than 24 hours before Sanders was found dead.
At points, Adams' testimony was inconsistent with that of other witnesses in the case.

She testified that Williams told her the suspects drove two different cars to Sanders' home, while other testimony indicated the four suspects drove to the scene in a stolen truck. Similarly, she testified that Williams told her she was present when Sanders purchased an ounce and a half of methamphetamine the day before he died. Other witness accounts stated that Williams was not present, and that Sanders only purchased an ounce of the drug.

While she had been in custody for violating her probation by possessing speed, Adams testified that the District Attorney's Office agreed to reduce that charge to a misdemeanor and release her for time served in exchange for truthful testimony in this case.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Detective Richard Schlesiger also took the stand Thursday, testifying about an interview of Burgess he conducted with Detective Troy Garey in April. Schlesiger testified that he and Burgess had been friends in high school, and that he thought Burgess would be honest with him.

Shortly after McLaughlin began questioning Schlesiger about the interview, Burgess' attorney, Neal Sanders, objected, saying that, even though his client was not under arrest, he did not feel free to leave the interview and that he had been coerced into making statements that day.

While being questioned by Neal Sanders, Schlesiger testified that at one point during the interview, he and Burgess went outside during a break. While outside, Schlesiger testified that he asked Burgess if he shot Ezra Sanders, to which he said Burgess responded: “What if I said yes?”

After that, Schlesiger testified that he asked Burgess if he shot the .45-caliber handgun and that Burgess said he did.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna said, at that point, Burgess should have been read his Miranda rights. Because Garey and Schlesiger did not read Burgess his rights until later in the interview, Cissna ruled that everything in the interview that came after Burgess' admission that he shot the .45-caliber handgun be excluded from court.

Burgess was taken into custody immediately following the interview with the detectives.

After court Thursday, McLaughlin indicated he intends to challenge Cissna's ruling regarding the admissibility of Burgess' statements.

The preliminary hearing, which is being held to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold the defendants to stand trial, is expected to continue today.

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