Eleven witnesses testified about events involving the June 22 fatal shooting of Jess Matthew Robles, 34, of Pacific Beach, by Thomas Francis Burke, 33, at the front door of Burke’s condominium unit at 4177 Voltaire St. around 11 p.m.
Burke, who was known by the nickname of T.J., was ordered to stand trial for murder by San Diego Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom, who declined to lower his $4 million bail. Burke will next appear in court Nov. 28 and he has pleaded not guilty.
Burke, who remains in jail, has worked as a pharmacist at a Scripps Hospital in San Diego. The courtroom was packed with friends and family members of both Burke and Robles.
Burke’s two female roommates both testified that he detested Robles, but were not asked why. Theresa Davidson said Burke insisted that Robles be accompanied with his girlfriend, Larae Clark, whenever the couple was in the unit.
Davidson said Burke had “jealousy” issues, but was not asked to explain. Immediately after the shooting, Burke told her “I just shot Jess; I’m probably going to jail,” according to Davidson.
Clark described Burke as having “O.C.D., obsessive compulsive disorder” and kept his unit very clean. She said she was planning to move out because she was uncomfortable with the tension.
Clark said she and Robles were at an Ocean Beach restaurant June 22 when Burke sent a text message to her stating Robles was “a douche bag.” Robles read the text message on Clark’s phone, and used her phone to send angry texts back to him, according to testimony.
“Hey, (vulgarism). Sounds like you have a lot to say about me behind my back,” according to Robles’ text message read in court. “That’s right, bitch. Let’s meet up (vulgarism),” the message continued.
Clark did not know Robles texted Burke back with her phone until after the police printed out the text messages for her, she said. She said the couple returned to the condo, but Robles waited outside, and she packed some things to take to leave for a few days.
Robles knocked on the door at some point. Burke opened the door at gunpoint and fired two shots, killing Robles. A police officer’s body camera video showed images of Robles on the ground outside the unit, which caused some of Robles’ family members to leave the courtroom.
Dr. Glenn Wagner, the county chief medical examiner, said Robles was shot in the neck and in his upper chest below the collarbone. He said the neck wound showed that he was shot at close proximity to the gun.
Detective Daniel Burrow testified he recovered Burke’s Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol that was found on Burke’s bed.
Burke’s attorney, Tom Warwick, argued the text messages were a threat and it was reasonable for Burke to answer a knock on the door by Robles at gunpoint. Warwick unsuccessfully urged the judge to order him to stand trial for manslaughter only.
Warwick described the incident as “a spontaneous situation.” He said Burke was in his own home and responded to a threat.
“I didn’t hear any evidence of self-defense,” said Bloom. “Didn’t he flee the scene?”
Burke left his unit after the shooting and surrendered to police downtown at 7:40 a.m. on June 23.
“At best, its voluntary manslaughter level,” said Warwick. “It’s going to get sorted out (by a jury)…It’s not second-degree murder if its sudden impact or a quarrel.”
“You still can’t shoot someone who’s unarmed,” replied the judge.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley urged Burke be held to answer for murder and whether it is first or second-degree murder is not necessary to be proven at a preliminary hearing.
“He didn’t like this guy and he was going to kill him,” said Sutterley.
The prosecutor opposed any reduction to the $4 million bail figure, saying another judge had lowered it from $10 million. Sutterley said there was a witness who said that Burke put the gun in his own mouth a few weeks before the shooting.
Bloom said he was concerned Burke might kill himself if the bail was lowered and he posted bond. Warwick said Burke may be vindicated at trial.