A couple of Reno strippers made their way over the mountain a few years ago to put on a private show for Michael Sanderson in his Carmichael apartment.
When it was over, Sanderson was dead and the $50,000 he had stashed in a black bag was missing.
Nobody knows for sure what happened to the money, but Sacramento prosecutors think they know who killed Sanderson.
In her closing arguments Wednesday to a Sacramento Superior Court jury, Deputy District Attorney Caroline Park pointed the finger at Patrick Joseph Godines, Patrick Jerome McPherson and Travis Monroe Mabson. She asked the jury to return verdicts against them of first-degree murder with special circumstances of attempted robbery and burglary.
“Every one of them had the intent, and their intent was to take the life of Mr. Sanderson, and that’s why all three of them are guilty,” Park said.
Attorneys for the three defendants disagreed. Kyle Knapp, who is representing Godines, the accused gunman, said his client was only trying to get the women out of Sanderson’s apartment. Kelly Babineau, on behalf of Mabson, said he wasn’t there. Mike Wise, the lawyer for McPherson, argued that the defendant who purportedly put the robbery scheme together changed his mind and sought to call it off in the moments before the killing.
As for the strippers, the two of them pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and are in line to be sentenced to six years in prison.
Jeanette Campbell, 27, and Aubry Toews, 25, took their deals from the DA’s office two years ago in exchange for the testimony they delivered in the trial that ran over the last month in front of Judge Russell L. Hom.
Park all but apologized to the jury Wednesday for basing so much of her case on the word of the two strippers.
“They were not chosen by me,” she said. “They were chosen by one person – Mr. McPherson. He is the one who contacted them.”
Sanderson, 54, was shot and killed just after midnight on July 29, 2011, in his apartment in the 5700 block of Manzanita Avenue.
A product of the Elverta area, Sanderson was raised on a north county cattle ranch and graduated from Rio Linda High School. He went into the Army afterward. He is the father of four children and numerous grandchildren, his family said.
His relatives said he helped his parents run a feed store and also worked as a truck driver. They said he suffered a back injury on his trucker’s job and filed a workers’ comp claim that netted him the $50,000 in the weeks before his death.
According to the district attorney’s trial brief, Sanderson put the word out that he wanted to spend some cash on guns and girls. Toward that end, a friend introduced him to a friend who introduced him to McPherson, who sold Sanderson a firearm and arranged for the night’s entertainment with Campbell and Toews, the brief said.
“They were dancers at various gentlemen’s clubs,” the brief said.
McPherson, now 28, made the introductions on July 28 and left the women with Sanderson while putting together a robbery team that the DA said consisted of Godines, 29, and Mabson, 34. Prosecutors said the plan was for the women to distract Sanderson while the robbers broke in for the holdup.
Phone records showed that McPherson was in touch with the women during the two hours before the 12:14 a.m. shooting while they were inside Sanderson’s apartment. Just before midnight, McPherson texted Toews, telling her, “We’re pulling up.” Shortly afterward, Toews texted him back saying, “Now, now, now.”
The night of his death, Sanderson added methamphetamine into the equation and smoked himself into a paranoid condition, the strippers testified, pointing to the 2-by-4 barricades he had hammered into his apartment door to prevent unwanted intrusions.
“You’re my prisoners,” he told the women, defense attorney Wise said in his argument Wednesday. “No one is leaving.”
Wise said the women relayed the details of Sanderson’s behavior to the men in the car and that McPherson decided to call off the robbery and just have the gunmen go up to the apartment to get them.
“I’m not going to argue that the women were helpless,” Wise said. “But they were clearly uncomfortable.”
Park countered that Toews had been walking in and out of the apartment all night long without a problem. The DA also said the gunmen’s actions belied the notion that there was a change of plan. For one thing, both of the men wore masks, Park said – one of them apparently a likeness of former President Bill Clinton.
Godines’ remarks when he entered the apartment and confronted Sanderson at gunpoint also suggested that robbery was very much on his mind, according to Park’s interpretation.
“Where’s the money? Where’s the money?” Godines demanded of Sanderson, while Campbell stood topless nearby, according to Park’s account of the woman’s trial testimony.
Defense attorney Knapp discounted that portion of Campbell’s testimony. He said Godines went into the apartment only to liberate Campbell, not to rob Sanderson.
“If he’s going up to get her, it’s not felony murder,” Knapp said.
Knapp argued Campbell got it right, however, when she said that Sanderson, who was lying on his bed while she danced for him, “got up and he charges or lunged at Mr. Godines, and one shot was fired from very close range.”
Park noted that Godines initially denied to investigators he was ever in Sanderson’s apartment. The prosecutor also reminded the jury about Godines wearing the mask and asked the jury to consider why, if it was Godines’ intent to free Campbell, he left her behind and half-undressed while he sprinted out of the apartment.
Wheelman McPherson, meanwhile, was driving off without Campbell until Toews told him to wait for her, according to the DA.
“All he’s concerned about is getting away,” Park said.
Babineau decried the relative scarcity of evidence against Mabson, who in 1998 was sentenced to 12 years in prison for second-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, assault with a deadly weapon and receiving stolen property, according to online court records.
Toews testified Mabson was the second gunman in the apartment, but Babineau said the woman changed her story after she took her deal with the DA.
The prosecution’s case against Mabson included cellphone records that showed Godines contacting Mabson the night of the killing. The same records also showed Mabson’s cellphone pinging off a tower in Sanderson’s neighborhood at the time of the killing. Babineau said that was because Mabson lived close by.
“He simply wasn’t there,” Babineau said. “The evidence doesn’t establish that he was there, because he was not.”
The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.