Burke found guilty of voluntary manslaughter with gun use
Published - 04/14/17 - 10:27 AM | 2742 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A jury on Thursday convicted Thomas Francis Burke of voluntary manslaughter and personal use of a gun which killed Jess Matthew Robles, who was the boyfriend of Burke’s female roommate in Ocean Beach.

The eight women, four man jury deliberated 9.25 hours over three days. They rejected the verdicts suggested by the prosecutor and found Burke, 32, not guilty of first and second-degree murder.

Burke faces a maximum term of 21 years in state prison. San Diego Superior Court Judge Melinda Lasater set sentencing for May 11.

He could get 11 years for manslaughter and Lasater could impose a 10-year consecutive sentence for personally using a gun in a homicide. Had he been convicted of first-degree or second-degree murder with the gun use, he could have received a 50 or 40-year sentence.

“I believed it was a first-degree murder,” said Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley. “I was surprised at the verdict. Disappointed.”

Jurors left quickly and they could not be reached for comment. The trial started March 28 with three days of jury selection. Most of the seats in the courtroom with filled every day with friends and family of Burke and Robles.

Burke’s attorney, Gary Gibson, could not be reached for comment afterward, but he argued for acquittal based on self-defense. It was also suggested by the defense that jurors consider voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter if they did not vote to acquit him outright.

Lasater could sentence Burke to a lesser amount if she imposes six years for manslaughter and 10 years for the gun use.

Burke has been in jail on $4 million bail since he was arrested the morning after the June 22, 2016, shooting of Robles, 34, of Pacific Beach, outside Burke’s condominium unit at 4177 Voltaire Street.

Burke had exchanged texts with his roommate Larae Clark, who was dating Robles, and he wrote that Robles was “a douche bag.” When Clark went to the bathroom, Robles started reading those text messages about him while they were in the OB Noodle House.

Robles then texted Burke on his girlfriend’s phone several vulgar words and suggested they meet up sometime.

According to Gibson, this represented a danger, and Burke changed the code to his garage opener and locked the windows to a first floor bedroom.

Because of the tension, Clark had agreed to move out and Robles offered his place to stay. Since both had been drinking heavily, they took a Lyft to Burke’s condominium where Clark was going to pack some items and take her dog. Robles stayed in the car, but eventually became impatient when she didn’t come out.

The Lyft driver was waiting and saw Robles knock on the door. It’s disputed who opened it—Burke or Clark—but Burke shot Robles in the throat and then in the chest. Both were fatal wounds and he died at the scene.

Burke left the gun and his wallet on his upstairs bed, but took the gun’s magazine and phone and jumped off his balcony to a 15-foot drop, he testified, which resulted in his spraining an ankle.

“He’s not Jason Bourne,” argued Gibson. “He’s a 32-year-old pharmacist with no record.”

Gibson said Robles’ blood/alcohol level at death was .14, nearly twice the limit for drunk driving. He said that mean Robles had eight drinks. “A drunk guy came to his door and it cost him his life,” Gibson argued.

Sutterley argued that Burke showed he was obsessed with Clark and jealous of her relationship with Burke, who banned Robles from the household as he said he woke him up and made noise.

Burke also told Clarke he was in love with her and it caused him torment to imagine her in bed with Robles.

Sutterley presented testimony from a previous Burke girlfriend who said he left her cupcakes at her car at the beach and her apartment after they broke up. She didn’t like it, and Sutterley said they showed he had an obsession with Clark and his ex-girlfriend.

Burke probably sees the verdict as a defeat, but he will probably be paroled before age 50. Had he been convicted of murder, he might have not been paroled until age 85, or maybe not at all.
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