These are holidays of deliberation for Sheila Burns, about the life she now lives without the husband from whom she was inseparable, and about a jury’s pending decision on the man accused of murdering him.
On Tuesday, Burns sat in the hallway outside Department 25 at Sacramento Superior Court as jurors completed their fifth day of deliberations – without a decision – in the murder trial of Victor Rodgers, accused in the May 22, 2012, shooting death of her husband, Kerry Ray Burns.
Sheila huddled inside her peacoat, further protected by ear muffs and mittens from a cold that blew in from the streets to the center of her being.
“It’s as hard as it was the first year, in 2012, with him being gone,” Burns said, in flat tones and quiet demeanor. “It hasn’t lightened up. I haven’t been able to cope with it. There’s no understanding, so it takes a toll, especially around the holidays, being here, trying to celebrate Christmas with my kids, but still going to court for the murder of their father.
“It’s not all right,” she said.
The day of the killing, Sheila Burns stood inside her mother-in-law’s front door when her husband drove up to the Wyda Way residence in the Arden Arcade area after a quick trip to a store.
“I was an arm’s reach from the door when I heard five to seven gunshots,” she said. “I seen him duck and turn, and I thought he was all right, because I stepped outside to look, and there was no blood. Then I looked next door and saw he was on the grass next door. He was alive for seven to 10 minutes, looking at me, blinking. He couldn’t say anything, and his pulse left my fingers as soon as the sheriffs hit the corner.”
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker said Rodgers, 21, shot Burns out of anger, a feeling of being cheated in a check-kiting scheme the two of them ran with a third man. Defense attorney Michael Long countered that it was the other member of the trio who shot Sheila’s husband.
Since the Rodgers jury went out on Dec. 19, Sheila has spent every hour of its deliberations sitting in the hallway outside the courtroom of Judge Robert M. Twiss. A friend and an aunt have accompanied her.
The five-day vigil is only the tail end of her watch. Since Victor Rodgers’ arrest on June 17, 2012, Sheila has made it to two courthouses for every one of the defendant’s 51 appearances – arraignments, settlement conferences, six continuations on his preliminary hearing until he was held to answer, trial readiness conferences, aborted trial dates, pretrial motions, jury selection, the trial itself – and now, the agony of deliberations.
“My husband was and is my life,” Sheila Burns explained. “We have five kids together. I slept in his arms every night. I’ve known him since I was 11 years old. And that was ripped away from us. He died pretty much in my arms. It’s a hard situation for me.”
She said of the two of them, “We didn’t have friends. I was his friend. I was his best friend, and that’s why you see his best friend in the hallway every court day. Our children, we were friends. All of us, me, my husband and our kids, 24-7.”
Sheila was home-schooled while Kerry attended McClatchy, she said. They began having children while they were in their teens, and they continued having them beyond his death – she was five months pregnant when Kerry Burns was killed.
“He’s 2, walking, talking, ready to be potty trained,” Sheila said of her littlest boy. “His dad never saw him. He runs around and says ‘Daddy,’ but does he really know what a dad is?”
Kerry Burns worked jobs when he could find them at Walmart and McDonald’s, at the car wash. He helped in the warehouse of an aunt’s ceramics business.
“He had numerous little jobs,” Sheila Burns said of her husband, but nothing substantial, nothing long term. “He tried, though,” she said.
Kerry Burns’ misdemeanor included dealing in pirated recordings and petty theft, according to court online records, as well as the check-kiting scheme as detailed during the trial by the district attorney.
His wife insisted he never dealt drugs or ran with gangs.
“He was an outstanding father, husband, son, brother, nephew, grandson,” Sheila Burns said. “He was always there for us. He was there for me and my children. He was there for his mother. ... He wasn’t a violent person. ”
Sheila’s record reads as clean as winter’s wind-swept sky, according to the court’s online records. She and her kids live on Social Security survivor benefits.
“I’m trying to hold up,” she said. “But it’s hard. Going home to my kids all the time, they ask me, ‘Did Victor Rodgers get out of jail?’ ”
Right now, Sheila Burns has no vision of life beyond this case. She doesn’t have time for therapy, between court and her kids. All she sees ahead of her once the trial is over is “grief, grief and more grief.”
She’ll talk about her kids with anybody who asks, but other than that, the only thing on her mind is watching and waiting in the courtroom hallway.
“I think about that door opening,” Sheila said, about the entrance to the jury’s deliberation room, “and them coming out here with that envelope.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.