MARTINEZ -- After spending two weeks giggling and grinning, chiding his prosecutor, and insulting his victims' families, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza killer Nathan Burris remained silent Wednesday as jurors convicted him of capital murder charges that could lead to a death sentence.
The jury deliberated for about a day before finding the 49-year-old Richmond resident guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and special circumstances in the Aug. 11, 2009 shotgun shootings of Caltrans toll taker Deborah Ann Ross, 51, and Golden Gate Transit bus driver Ersie Everette, 58.
The verdict was welcomed by the families of Ross and Everette, who said it was hard to sit through testimony and see pictures of the ambush slayings that Burris, acting as his own attorney, claimed were justified by self-preservation at a time when he was "extremely brokenhearted."
The victims, friends through an Oakland church where Everette was studying to be a pastor, were killed because Burris suspected they were romantically involved after Ross had ended her 14-year relationship with Burris. He gunned down Everette, of San Leandro, in the toll plaza parking lot after puncturing Everette's truck tire. Moments later, he shot and killed Ross as she stood in her toll booth with nowhere to run.
"I'm happy with the verdict," said Ross' nephew, Anthony Lenoir. "Even though he's pretending to be happy, I know he's dying inside, so that's great."
Jurors return to court Thursday morning for the trial's penalty phase, at the end of which they'll be asked to recommend a death sentence. Burris would have automatically received life without the possibility of parole had California voters on Tuesday passed Proposition 34, which would have abolished the death penalty in state.
Either fate is fine by Burris, he's repeatedly said at trial. He's frequently mocked capital punishment in California, where condemned inmates are rarely executed because of legal challenges, and said he'll consider 30 years on Death Row his retirement. If he gets life without parole, and is therefore housed with the general prison population, Burris said he's prepared to fight and kill other inmates.
"My defense will not take too long, maybe 2-3 minutes, I haven't decided yet," Burris told the judge in anticipation of his penalty trial. "Other than that, I'm ready to go."
Burris appeared agitated when Chief Assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett named one of the witnesses he'll be calling to the stand -- a man from Chicago. Burris called the prosecutor "a clown."
"He makes me laugh," Burris said. "I'd rather laugh than be angry."
Two of Everette's brothers said they write off most of Burris' talk as fear-fueled bravado. They, like many members of Ross' family, want the jury to choose life without parole over death.
"I want him to live out the life he was meant to live," Ron Everette said. "He chose his life. He's just a slave now, a slave to the system."
Said Lenoir: "We think (death) is too good for him. We want him to remember what he did for the rest of his life, hopefully in a cell with two or three other inmates, sleeping with one eye open."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.