MARTINEZ -- A Contra Costa County jury on Tuesday chose the death penalty over life in prison for a Richmond man who not only said he had no remorse about killing his ex-girlfriend and her friend at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza but also that he would kill the pair again.
Nathan Burris, who giggled and mocked his victims' families throughout the trial, said, "Ha-ha" when his death verdict was read. Acting as his own attorney, Burris repeatedly told the jury he'd be content to receive a death sentence in California, where legal challenges make executions a rarity.
"I'm going to death row, but there is no death penalty," Burris, 49, said. "This went my way ... hey, it's all good."
This was the first capital punishment verdict handed down in Contra Costa County since Edward Wycoff, a Sacramento County man who killed his sister and brother-in-law in a 2007 El Cerrito home invasion attack, received a death sentence in 2009. He, too, acted as his own attorney and argued the murders were justified. The Contra Costa District Attorney's Office has not announced an intention to seek the death penalty in any other pending cases.
Burris killed Caltrans toll taker Deborah Ross, 51, and Golden Gate Transit bus driver Ersie "Chuckie" Everette, 58, on Aug. 11, 2009, because he suspected the victims had become romantically involved after Ross ended a 14-year relationship with Burris.
Burris set a trap for Everette, who lived in San Leandro, by puncturing one of his truck's tires in the toll plaza parking lot. Burris sneaked up on Everette as he sat in his truck and killed him with a shotgun blast. Burris then ran up to the toll booth in which Ross was working and gunned her down, too.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett told jurors Burris was prepared to kill more people had anyone tried to intervene in the shootings, which took place during a Tuesday evening commute.
Burris was convicted of two counts of capital murder on Nov. 7. On Tuesday, relatives of Ross and Everette quietly cheered, pumped their fists and thanked God as a court clerk read the penalty verdicts -- a death sentence for each murder. Everette's brothers needled Burris once the jury left the courtroom, prompting the last of Burris' many vulgar trial outbursts.
"Ha-ha, I blew your brother's brains out, and there's nothing you can do about it," Burris shouted at the victims' family members before hurling an expletive at them.
Burris spoke with a speech impediment throughout his trial, making him difficult to understand, but his final insults came out crystal clear.
"When he cursed us out, it was plain as day. He was faking" the speech impediment, said Everette's older brother, Hayward resident Dannie Hollans. "I'm not giving him the satisfaction of letting him hurt me."
"We expected that. That's him," said Everette's younger brother, Ron Everette, of Oakland.
One female juror from Walnut Creek, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, called Burris' behavior at trial "heinous."
" 'Why does this guy get to make a mockery of this?' is what we were thinking," she said. "It was his right not to have a defense; it took us a little while to understand that."
The jury deliberated for about a day and a half before reaching a penalty verdict. The female juror said the panel discussed their frustrations with the tremendous delays in death penalty cases in California and joked that they wished they could sentence Burris to a lifetime of breaking rocks in "200-degree heat." Ultimately, they feared Burris would kill other inmates, as he promised on the witness stand, if he received life in prison without the possibility of parole and was housed with the general prison population.
"We thought death was too good for him," the juror said. "We wanted to hurt him like he had hurt other people."
The victims' families had said early in the trial that they hoped Burris received life in prison because they thought he would suffer more. On Tuesday, they were applauding the death verdict.
"The person he is makes me hate him even more. My sister was a very good person," said Ross' sister, Jane Gray-Walker of Oakland. "I used to be against the death penalty, but now, after what we've been through, I'm glad we have the death penalty."
Ron Everette said he wants to personally watch Burris' execution.
"I want him to see my face before he closes his eyes," Ron Everette said. "I will be there in a heartbeat. I sure will."
Burris is scheduled to be sentenced by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge John Kennedy on Dec. 18.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.