◼ Three in custody in Sanders case
Thirty-nine days after Ezra Sanders was gunned down in his McKinleyville trailer, three suspects are in custody and suspected of committing his murder.
Jeffrey Alan Burgess, 39, of Eureka; Ruben Anthony Peredia, 33, of Ukiah and Lukus Larry Mace, 31, of Arcata, were all booked into Humboldt County jail Friday on suspicion of murder and attempted armed robbery, according to investigators on the case.
Sanders, a 30-year-old McKinleyville man, 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. Witnesses told investigators they heard a vehicle pull up to Sanders' trailer before hearing a single gunshot fired, followed by the sound of a vehicle speeding away.
Early in the case, investigators looked into the possibility that Sanders' alleged ties to a motorcycle gang may have had something to do with the shooting, but investigators said Saturday that proved not to be the case. Humboldt County Sheriff's detective Troy Garey, the primary investigator on the case, and District Attorney's Office investigator Steve Dunn said Saturday that, after more than 40 interviews, they have determined that Sander's death was the result of an attempted robbery gone wrong.
”Through the interviews, we found three primary suspects involved who conspired to contact (Sanders) and rob him for cash and drugs,” Dunn said. “In the course of that robbery, (Sanders) was shot once n the upper torso, which led to his death.”
Both the Sheriffs Office and the District Attorney's Office poured massive amounts of manpower and resources into the case, according to Dunn and Garey, with the District Attorney's Office even assigning Dunn to assist with the investigation.
”It's been kind of a tag-team effort between both agencies,” Dunn said.
A detective familiar with the case referred to it early on as a “stone-cold whodunit” with no obvious suspects or leads. Garey and Dunn said Saturday that they spent the 39 days after Sanders' murder talking to dozens of witnesses, fielding anonymous tips and chasing down countless leads.
”We have worked on this case every day, and it's been part of our lives for the last 39 days,” said Dunn.
Garey said, in recent weeks, he's lost sleep over the case, waking up in the middle of the night to mull over leads.
”It was a tough one -- one of those ground-and-pounds, where you just take it day by day,” he said.
Dunn said he and Garey initially broke the case down into portions, one for each of Sanders' groups of friends and acquaintances.
”We basically had four scenarios and lots of potential suspects because (Sanders) knew a bunch of people and had a lot of enemies,” he said, adding that he and Garey simply worked the case one scenario at a time.
Early on, the investigators said they received a pair of anonymous calls saying that Burgess had been involved in Sanders' killing, and had used a stolen truck. Garey and Dunn then turned to the California Highway Patrol for help in sifting through stolen vehicle reports.
The case caught a break late last month when the Fortuna Police Department recovered a stolen green GMC truck. When Garey and Dunn looked through the stolen/embezzled vehicle report from CHP, they found Burgess listed as the primary suspect.
Mace and Peredia were both taken into custody in March on unrelated cases.
On March 13, Garey and Dunn served a search warrant on a home on Eureka's Lewis Avenue for the Sanders case, and took Mace into custody on an unrelated outstanding warrant.
Similarly, Peredia was taken into custody March 1, after he was involved in a car crash on Kneeland Heights Road that led to his arrest on two outstanding felony warrants, and suspicion of theft. In relation to the Sanders case, investigators also served a search warrant on Peredia's Higgins Street home in Eureka.
Then, this past Friday, after re-interviewing a number of witnesses, Dunn and Garey had Burgess come in for an interview, and they said the picture began to become clear.
”That interview led to his arrest for being the primary person involved (in Sanders' murder),” Dunn said, adding that after Burgess' arrest, Peredia and Mace, both already in custody, were also booked on suspicion of attempted robbery and murder for the Sanders case.
The story that Dunn and Garey have pieced together is that Mace, Ruben and Burgess allegedly conspired to drive from Eureka to McKinleyville in order to use a gun and a knife to rob Sanders, whom they knew, for drugs and money. When Sanders resisted, raising his fists to fight the three men, they allegedly shot him and fled the scene in a panic without taking anything.
Throughout the case, Dunn and Garey said they conducted surveillance on Peredia and Burgess, served several search warrants and eventually uncovered evidence leading to three other, unrelated, felony arrests for possession of stolen property and drug possession.
Both Dunn and Garey said assistance from a variety of agencies -- including CHP, the Arcata Police Department, the Trinidad Police Department, the Eureka Police Department, the Fortuna Police Department and the Department of Justice -- was integral in making the case.
But, the investigation is ongoing.
Dunn and Garey have recovered the truck allegedly used in the murder, which they said is awaiting forensic testing by the Department of Justice, but the search continues for the murder weapon.
Despite having spent countless hours over the last 39 days working the case from all angles, Garey said nothing fancy led to Mace, Peredia and Burgess' booking.
”It just boils down to ordinary, good cop work: Talk to people, hit the streets and work long hours,” Garey said. “We said from the beginning that one piece of information would come in and it was going to be a domino effect, and that's pretty much what happened.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.