Someone killed Kerry Ray Burns on the doorstep of his mother’s home. For the second time, Sacramento County prosecutors on Thursday said it was Victor Rodgers who pulled the trigger, shooting to death the man they say was part of a check-kiting scheme the pair operated with a third man.
Burns, 27, had just returned to his mother’s Wyda Way home near Arden Fair mall from a store on May 22, 2012, when he was shot twice on the front porch as his wife watched from behind the screen door.
The trial of Burns’ alleged killer in December 2014 lasted weeks. The defense said a third member of the check-kiting operation fired the shots that killed Burns. A jury deliberated the case for 13 days before telling Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss in January that it could not reach a verdict.
On Thursday, a new jury began hearing the case for the first time when opening statements and testimony in Rodgers’ murder trial began before Twiss.
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In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker said Rodgers was angry in the days before Burns was shot. Rodgers wasn’t getting his fair cut from the bank-cheating scheme and let Burns know about it in a string of phone and text messages. Worse yet, at least one bank had caught on and had started its own investigation, Asker said.
Asker cited cellphone records and text transcripts projected on a large screen for jurors of heated exchanges between Rodgers and Burns over money and the bank investigation in the days before Burns was shot and killed. In one five-call flurry, Rodgers demanded Burns pick up the phone. Burns, meanwhile, accused Rodgers of siccing the bank on him. In text messages between Rodgers and a girlfriend three days before Burns’ death, Rodgers’ patience appeared to have reached its end.
“U didn’t do anything stupid to this guy, did u?” asks Rodgers’ girlfriend.
“No, but I’m going to feed him a hot one though,” Rodgers replies.
Three days later, on May 22, Burns was dead, struck down on his doorstep. Asker rolled out statements that Rodgers’ younger brother, Malik Rodgers, made to police that implicated Victor Rodgers and a call that Asker said Malik made to his brother on Wyda Way that signaled Burns had returned: “Time to go.”
“It was an ambush,” Asker said.
Victor Rodgers is the prosecutors’ prime suspect, but his defense attorney, Michael Long, said in his opening statement Thursday that lies taint the case – from the Sacramento police detectives who pumped witnesses for information that led them to an arrest, to witnesses’ statements, to Rodgers’ own words, a self-defense story concocted in order to protect his younger brother, who also was implicated in the shooting.
“Victor Rodgers is not the person who shot Kerry Burns,” Long said.
Jurors, Long said, “will be treated to a vast web of lies told by police and by witnesses in 2012 and 2013 to the point of this trial.”
Malik Rodgers, too, was suspected of murder along with his older brother in the shooting and was jailed in the case, but he accepted a deal as an accessory after the fact in exchange for his testimony.
Long accused Sacramento police detectives of threatening Malik Rodgers with a long prison stretch if he didn’t give investigators what they wanted and said Malik lied to police to get out of jail and have his murder charge dropped. He said Victor Rodgers, who was arrested in Las Vegas soon after the fatal shooting, was at a local taqueria, then a relative’s home nearby when the shots were fired, but he falsely told detectives he shot Burns in a desperate attempt to save his younger brother from a murder charge.
Sheila Burns, Kerry Burns’ widow, tearfully recalled from the witness stand her husband’s final moments. She saw Malik Rodgers and about six other faces she didn’t recognize as Kerry Burns drove to a nearby store, she testified. A few minutes later, Sheila said she heard her husband’s car pull into the driveway.
“I was looking out the screen door,” she recalled. She saw her husband look right, then glance to the left.
Burns was an arm’s length from the door when Sheila heard the gunshots.
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.