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Bee file, 2012. Dupree Pierre Barber stands accused of killing his ex-supervisor, Steve Ebert, at Hagan Community Park.

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Trial begins in 2012 slaying of Rancho Cordova parks official

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 9:07 am

Dupree Pierre Barber just bought a car, and the car turned up on a street just a mile or so from where his former boss had been shot dead, and the car had a gun inside it that the DA's attorney described as the murder weapon.

According to the prosecutor, witnesses will say Barber simmered in anger over his layoff as a maintenance worker for the Rancho Cordova park district, and that he felt his ex-boss – the man who wound up fatally shot – had been trying to get him fired.

Barber also filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the district, one that named it and the slain maintenance superintendent as defendants.

There were other items of evidence that Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard laid out in his opening statement Monday at Barber's murder trial, things such as the defendant having his passport and birth certificate at the ready the day of the killing.

Then, after Barber had been jailed on suspicion of murder, he told a former co-worker to go ahead and take anything he wanted out of his apartment – the TV, his microwave, his clothes, shoes, whatever.

If the jailed Barber thought he was as good as gone for the murder of Steve Ebert, his attorney, Assistant Public Defender John Perkins, told the 12 members of a Sacramento Superior Court jury Monday that they should hold off before they make up their minds.

"It kind of looks bad for Mr. Barber, doesn't it?" Perkins said, in his opening statement in the trial that got under way in front of Judge Patrick Marlette.

Perkins did not outline what Barber's defense will be, but he reminded the jury it hadn't heard any evidence yet against his client in Norgaard's opening.

"Keep an open mind and listen to both sides," Perkins told the jury.

When it's all in, Perkins added, "I believe the evidence will show you will have a reasonable doubt at the end of Mr. Norgaard's case and whether he has proved the allegations against Mr. Barber."

Barber, now 49, is facing a special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait in the shooting death of the 59-year-old Ebert, the maintenance superintendent for the Cordova Recreation and Park District.

The killing took place around 6 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2012, when Ebert drove into Hagan Community Park and was shot dead on a roadway leading to the maintenance headquarters.

Authorities say Barber, speeding into the park in the car he bought five days earlier for $9,000 on his American Express card, pulled up alongside Ebert and ambushed him with six shots he fired from inside the newly purchased silver Saturn Vue.

It was the same Saturn Vue, Norgaard said, that investigators discovered on Dolecetto Drive around 11 a.m. the day of the killing, not far from the entrance kiosk into Hagan Community Park.

Inside the car, Sacramento sheriff's detectives found a .357 revolver that had been fired six times. Ballistics tests showed it was the same gun that fired a spent round found inside Ebert's shirt, according to the DA.

The car had been smashed up, and was missing its gas cap and other gray plastic car parts. Norgaard said a Rancho Cordova police officer found the wreckage.

Along with the physical and circumstantial evidence, Norgaard told the jury about the park district's budget problems, the ones that forced layoffs and put Barber out of work.

Quoting witnesses who attended district layoff meetings in which Barber was present, Norgaard said the lost job left the man livid.

"He went from zero to angry very fast," the DA said.

The layoffs came on top of longer-standing disputes between Barber and the district and Ebert. For years before the layoffs, and before the killing, the prosecutor said Ebert had a sense it wasn't safe for him to be around Barber.

Ebert would give Barber directives and Barber "would challenge all of them," Norgaard said. Ebert told co-workers that at meetings, "This guy's staring me down," and that, "I think he's hostile and he might be dangerous," according to the prosecutor.

In 2009, Barber, an African American, filed a racial discrimination suit against the park district. The suit, which Barber later withdrew, named Ebert as a defendant.

"It was very clear these two gentlemen don't get along at all," Norgaard said.

In testimony Monday, a park maintenance supervisor described how when he arrived at work the day of the killing, he saw a light-colored, medium-sized vehicle hurrying out of the park on Chase Drive "faster than normal," given the early morning hour and the rainy weather conditions.

As he drove into the park and made his right turn off of Chase Drive and onto the park road that leads to the district's maintenance headquarters, Scott Norton said he came across his boss's Jeep Wrangler.

"I looked inside and saw Steve Ebert was inside, slumped over," Norton testified.

"He was no longer breathing at that point," Norton said.

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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