MARTINEZ — Standing on a hilltop and peering through binoculars, Nathan Burris watched his deadly plan unfold.
He had slashed Ersie "Chucky" Everette's front truck tire in the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge parking lot and waited for him to call for help. Nathan Burris — an airport shuttle driver from Richmond — had set his plan into action.
Burris escaped the shooting in a Western Eagle shuttle van. Western Eagle is a San Rafael-based company. Burris ultimately killed Everette and his ex-girlfriend, toll booth operator Deborah Ross, with a shotgun, chief assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett told a jury Wednesday as part of the county's first capital murder trial since 2009.
Jewett detailed the highly publicized Aug. 11, 2009, double shooting during his opening statements. Burris, 48, who is representing himself, declined to give an opening statement.
Burris, whose slurred speech can be difficult to understand, leaned on adviser Larry Barnes, a former prosecutor and death penalty expert, but cross-examined all of Wednesday's witnesses himself.
It marked the first capital punishment case brought forward by the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office since a 2006 El Cerrito home-invasion double murder, which went to trial in 2009.
Two special allegations attached to Burris' murder charges make him a candidate for the death penalty: multiple murders and lying in wait.
At an initial 2009 court
Jewett told the jury of the harrowing moments surrounding the double shooting.
After leaving his hillside perch, Burris drove his van through the No. 7 lane and asked the toll booth operator which lane Ross was in. He returned to a parking lot between the east and westbound lanes, where he shot Everette around 6 p.m. as he waited for roadside assistance for his slashed tire, Jewett said.
Burris then ran about 50 feet to Toll Lane 3 and shot Ross — who had taken shelter in her booth — multiple times, Jewett said. Burris then drove eastward toward Sacramento.
Evening commuters watched in horror as the events unfolded.
"I was terrified. I started ducking behind my dashboard," testified Todd Yeck, who was approaching the toll plaza after the first shooting after leaving work in Hercules. He said the shooter walked directly in front of his car and pointed the shotgun at him.
As Yeck made a U-turn to eastbound lanes, he heard two shots.
"I heard the shots and I knew people were dying," he testified. "Making that U-turn was not something I'll ever be proud of."
Roger Lyle was a passenger in the eastbound lanes. He testified he saw a man shoot Everette with a shotgun in the parking lot. He told his driver, "I think I just saw somebody get shot."
Takiya Keys was a toll booth collector trained by Ross. She testified Burris drove through her lane shortly before the shooting and asked where Ross was working. When asked if the man with the shotgun was in the room, she pointed at Burris.
Jurors also heard a panicked three-minute 9-1-1 call from Ross' supervisor pleading for law enforcement to come to the toll plaza.
Burris had some strange moments in previous pretrial court hearings, including a profanity-laced tirade when he tried to fire his public attorney after he heard prosecutors were seeking the death penalty. But he remained calm, representing himself throughout Wednesday's proceedings.
Before the jury entered, he argued to reduce the number of bailiffs standing near him, to which Jewett objected.
"I think he's capable of anything at any time," Jewett said. "Nathan Burris is a dangerous man."
"I've had no outbursts, no verbal abuse, no jumping around, I've been, for lack of a better word, a model inmate," Burris, wearing a blue collared shirt and large-rimmed glasses, told Judge John W. Kennedy. "I'm not going to misbehave, I'm giving you my word."
At times, Burris struggled to question witnesses, leading to objections by Jewett.
He asked the judge to have Jewett quit with his "bogus objections" as a "courtesy." Kennedy explained to Burris he needed to work on his questioning.