Formerly mysterious 'Serge' being tried along with original suspect at murder trial

Published: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 8:05 am

He was faceless the first time around, and the lawyers referred to him only by his nickname – "Serge."

This time, a more complete picture of the mysterious Serge came into the focus in the search for the killer in the Aug. 26, 2011, pot robbery shooting death of 20-year-old Adrian Augusta.

The man behind the mystery took a seat Wednesday at the defense table. His name is Sherston Andre "Serge" Miles, 37. Along with co-defendant Devenne Marquist Rodriguez, 27, Miles is accused of murder in the 12:59 a.m. killing at 37th Avenue and 44th Street in the Fruitridge area of Sacramento.

Rodriguez's retrial and Miles' first trial began Wednesday in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman. In court, the two defendants sat just one chair apart, an uncomfortable proximity for the pair, given that each has accused the other of being the person who shot and killed Augusta.

Last year, Rodriguez faced the murder charge by himself. In taking the witness stand in his own behalf, Rodriguez conceded he was at the scene of the killing, but only to buy some pot.

He said it was his accomplice, whom he identified then only as "Serge," who was responsible for the robbery and fatal shooting of Augusta. The empty-chair defense helped persuade enough jurors to vote to acquit Rodriguez of the first-degree charge and force the mistrial.

Even before that jury's non-verdict, the continuing investigation into Augusta's killing had swung in the direction of Miles.

District attorney's investigator Kirk Campbell interviewed Rodriguez's girlfriend on Aug. 13, 2012, less than a month before last year's trial, Campbell testified at a preliminary hearing earlier this year.

The girlfriend told Campbell that Rodriguez told her that Sherston Miles shot Augusta, the investigator testified at the Jan. 22 hearing.

Four days after his interview with the girlfriend, Campbell said, he listened in on a jailhouse telephone conversation between her and Rodriguez. She informed her murder-defendant lover that investigators had become interested in Miles, which Rodriguez did not take as terribly good news, according to Campbell. "He related to her that it might be better for him – for Mr. Rodriguez – if they didn't catch Serge," Campbell testified.

The girlfriend, in her analysis of the case, told Rodriguez it looked to her like he just went to 37th Avenue the night of the killing to buy some pot, Campbell testified, to which he replied, "Exactly." Rodriguez wound up testifying exactly to that effect at trial.

Investigators, meanwhile, in continuing to work the Augusta killing last year, found a text message Rodriguez had sent about a half-hour before Augusta's death. They said the message went to a phone number belonging to Miles that turned up in a Sacramento police investigation into a 2010 pot robbery in the parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken off Mack Road.

That robbery also turned violent, the investigators said, when third parties on both sides pulled out firearms and began shooting each other. One man was injured.

According to the preliminary hearing testimony, Campbell and sheriff's Detective Stanley Swisher contacted Miles 12 days before Rodriguez's jury was sworn. Miles said he'd never heard of Devenne Rodriguez.

They showed him the record of the Rodriguez text message to his phone at 12:27 a.m. the day of the 12:59 a.m. killing. He then admitted to knowing Rodriguez. They arrested him, and prosecutors charged him with the KFC pot robbery

One day after the jury hung in the Rodriguez-only trial, Swisher and Campbell, on Sept. 26, again visited the incarcerated Sherston Miles. They made him aware that Rodriguez identified him as the shooter. Miles then admitted his presence at the Adrian Augusta shooting, but he said it was Rodriguez who pulled the trigger.

"He said Mr. Rodriguez was armed, had a gun with him," Campbell testified at the prelim. "He said that then Mr. Rodriguez shot the victim," Campbell testified.

Prosecutors in October 2012 amended the murder complaint to put Miles' name next to Rodriguez's.

In Wednesday's opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco did not say who she believes actually did the shooting. She maintained that the three text messages between the two – one a half-hour before the shooting and two 11 hours afterward – showed they worked the robbery in concert and that they checked in on each other's well-being the next day.

"It's a robbery," Greco told the jury, "a planned robbery that turned deadly."

Rodriguez's attorney, Frances Huey, said the evidence "just doesn't add up" against her client. Miles' lawyer, John-Paul Brennan, said, "There is no evidence to say Mr. Miles was involved in this crime."

Sheriff's officials say the two defendants are being transported to trial separately.

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136. Follow her in Twitter @AnitaCreamer.

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