Thomas Francis Burke IV, 33, was sentenced for killing Jess Matthew Robles, 34, of Pacific Beach, on June 22, 2016, outside his door at 4177 Voltaire St.
Every seat was filled with friends and family of both men during the three-hour sentencing. San Diego Superior Court Judge Melinda Lasater set a restitution hearing for July 10 to see if he should pay for funeral expenses.
Since the jury convicted Burke of voluntary manslaughter on April 13, he could have been sentenced to a maximum 21-year term. The jury acquitted Burke of first and second-degree murder.
Lasater ordered a six-year term for manslaughter plus a 10-year term for using a gun in a homicide. She rejected defense requests for probation and or at most a six-year term.
Burke will have to serve 85 percent of the 16-year term, or an actual time of 12.75 years, said his attorney, Gary Gibson, who noted that Burke received credits for 371 days in jail awaiting trial and sentencing.
Burke, who went by the nickname T.J., was dressed in blue jail clothing and was handcuffed as Lasater heard from nine witnesses who were friends and family of Robles and two of Burke’s co-workers, his mother, and stepfather.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Sutterley said Burke lied during the trial when he said he shot Robles in self-defense. He described Burke as having a “Dr. Jekyl side of his life.”
Sutterley said the two bullet casings were found outside the door, and not inside the condo.
Robles’ family assailed the jury’s verdict, saying he should have been convicted of either first or second-degree murder which would have likely produced a life sentence in prison.
“I’m sick with grief. I’ve lost my joy,” said the victim’s father, Michael Robles, 62. “The court case is all I talk about.
“He could have called the police. T.J. knew what he was doing,” said Michael Robles. “He used unnecessary force … He’s changed everything forever.”
“Jess was a light wherever he went, and you extinguished it,” said the victim’s sister, Michelle Scalzi, to Burke. “He decided Jess should die just for sending a text message.”
Burke sent unflattering text messages about Robles to his girlfriend, Larae Clark, while she and Robles were eating dinner at the OB Noodle House. He referred to Robles as “a douche bag” and Robles read the message on Clark’s phone, according to trial testimony.
Lasater read Robles’ text message to the audience Thursday which said in part “let’s meet up bro” in which he used a vulgar word. Burke’s lawyer said Burke took that as a threat and that is why he came to the door with a gun.
“It is not right in sending a threatening text,” said Lasater. “Sadly, alcohol played a huge part in this.”
Robles’ had a blood-alcohol level at death of .15 while Burke drank two beers beforehand. Robles and Clark took a Lyft ride to the condo, where Clark was going to pack some things to move out.
Burke told Clark to move out, but the judge noted he should have presented an eviction notice to her. Clark noticed a bullet on the floor at the door and threw it in the trash as she came home, which was something “she didn’t recognize the significance of,” said Lasater.
Lasater said anyone, including the Lyft driver, could have been shot at the door after knocking, considering the mood of Burke.
“Jess didn’t deserve to die like that. You cheated me, T.J. and I’m ashamed to ever call (myself) your friend,” said Clark, who told her former roommate he had turned into “a monster.”
Robles was shot in the chest and in the throat and died outside the condo door. No words were exchanged.
Two of Burke’s co-workers at a San Diego hospital pharmacy praised his work history, including Nancy Lee who said Burke was “always calm.”
Lasater asked both pharmacists if they were aware Burke was taking Prozac for depression. They said they did not know that.
“What happened was totally out of T.J.’s character. He had to be terrified,” said Burke’s mother, Mia Campos. “I love my son and hope this court will show mercy.”
Gibson said Burke was in fear because of the text message from Robles and he changed his garage door opener code just minutes before Robles knocked on the door. Burke was on the phone three minutes before the shooting, said Gibson.
The last person to speak was Burke, who said this: “If I could erase the pain, I would. I’m sorry. That one second doesn’t define me.”
Lasater noted Burke had no prior record. He was fined $5,024.
Robles’ friend, Scotty Couloun, told the judge Robles moved to Pacific Beach in 2008 and loved surfing up to 3-4 hours at a time. Edith Robles, his mother, said “Jess found tranquility in the ocean.”