Attorneys make opening statements in Burke trial
by NEAL PUTNAM
Published - 04/04/17 - 12:18 PM | 2687 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The lawyer for an Ocean Beach man told a jury Monday his client shot a man outside his door and was justified in killing him in self-defense because the man sent threatening text messages to him.

Attorney Gary Gibson told the jury he will ask them to return a not guilty verdict in the 2016 death of Jess Matthew Robles, 34, of Pacific Beach, by his client, Thomas Francis Burke, 33.

Burke, who is known by the nickname T.J., was a pharmacist at a San Diego hospital before the shooting. All courtroom seats were filled with family and friends of both Robles and Burke.

Attorneys on both sides read text messages that were sent back and forth by Burke to his female roommate, Larae Clark, who was dating Robles on June 22, 2016. Burke described Robles as “a douche” in a text message, and Robles then sent Burke text messages in response using his girlfriend’s phone while they were at the OB Noodle House.

Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley told the eight woman, four man jury he would ask them to convict Burke of first-degree murder. He said Burke described his hatred for Robles because he was jealous and had developed feelings for his roommate.

Burke described Robles as “a party boy” whom he hated and had banned him from the Voltaire Street condominium, said Sutterley. Burke claimed Robles was too noisy and woke him up.

Clark and Burke were old friends from when they lived in New Jersey. She began dating Robles about six weeks before he was killed. The prosecutor said 11 hours before the fatal shooting Burke told his roommate he loved her.

The first witness was Lyft driver Edgar Bulbuena, who gave a ride to Robles and Clark to the condominium. Bulbuena testified Clark thought she was being kicked out and Robles offered his house for where she could stay. She went inside to pack some things.

“It seems like he wants to be with my girlfriend,” said Robles in the car about Burke, according to Bulbuena.

The Lyft driver testified he saw Robles knock on the condominium’s front door and heard two shots. Bulbuena said he called 911.

Sutterley said Robles was shot in the throat and chest and there was stippling residue present on the throat wound, indicating the gun was 4-6 inches away when fired.

Gibson told jurors Robles communicated threats via text messages to Burke, who used “lawful self-defense in his home.” Gibson said Robles’ blood/alcohol level was .16, indicating he consumed 8-9 drinks.

Gibson said Burke was “so freaked out,” he changed the garage door code after receiving Robles’ text messages. Gibson said Burke had suspected Robles had gone through his drawers in his bedroom earlier.

After the shooting, Burke laid the gun on his bed and jumped off the balcony. He took his cell phone with him and called an attorney five times, but never actually spoke with him. He surrendered to police downtown the next morning at 7:30 a.m.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Melinda Lasater gave lengthy instructions to the jury Monday. Burke has pleaded not guilty, and remains in jail on $4 million bail.
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