Timothy Burger, 21, of Sacramento, was shot dead early the morning of October 30th, 2010 during a home invasion robbery attempt at a home on Steele Lane, Laytonville
Burger's accomplices, 18-year-old Tyrone Bell and 19-year-old Christopher Shinn, also of Sacramento, were arrested later that day walking south on Highway 101. They were booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of murder, conspiracy and robbery, with bail for each set at $250,000.
And, a few days later, there was one more arrest — Christopher Shinn's father, Noah.
Noah Shinn lived in the Laytonville area. He is alleged to have targeted the home where Burger died, shot dead by a wild shot from Jill Cahill's .357.
It all finally got to court last week.
It was about 5am that morning when the three would-be pot bandits burst into Ms. Cahill's sleepy Steele Lane home.
Ernie Sanders was up, though, loading cordwood into the woodstove, but Kathleen Stippinoff was sleeping on the couch when the home invaders hit.
Sanders and Ms. Stippinoff were visiting their friend Jill Cahill for a couple of days. Ms. Cahill, it seems, was at odds with her significant other, David Loggins, who was sofa-surfing at a nearby neighbor’s house.
Jill Cahill had been up all night working on legal papers having to do with the couple's impending breakup. She'd just stretched out to rest when she heard the door burst open and a commotion that included the sound of gunfire. Jill grabbed a 357 handgun and stepped out of her room. She saw Ernie Sanders on the floor by the stove in the fetal position and two armed men wearing hoods and masks standing near him. The room was dark and smoky and full of Mace and/or pepper spray but, as best she could, Jill aimed the heavy Blackhawk revolver and fired at the hoodies.
Jill had never handled a gun before in her life, she said. She had just borrowed “the infernal damn thing” from a neighbor “for protection.” Maybe she felt threatened by her ex, maybe it was because the end of October is the time of year in outback Mendocino County when home invaders are on the prowl, looking to steal the fruit of other people's marijuana labor.
One of Jill's wild shots hit one of the bandits.
The Burger boy took a magnum round through the chest. The high-velocity lead pill went through both lungs and clipped the artery on the top of his heart, which medicos call the aorta. Burger dropped dead in the driveway. He'd made it maybe 35 feet. The bullet went out through his shoulder blade and was never recovered.
A .357 slug is about the size of a man’s first pinky-finger joint; but the specific gravity is nearly cubed and the muzzle velocity is truly astounding. It makes a sickening slurp passing through living flesh and bone, and leaves the victim with what’s called a sucking chest wound to drown in his own blood.
Young Burger’s partners didn’t wait for him, much less come back to see if he was okay, even though they outnumbered and outgunned the one and only woman who'd returned fire.
The dead man was wearing a paintball mask, rubber latex gloves, goggles, dungarees and a hoody sweatshirt. These guys had apparently put themselves through some training exercises.
The DA wants to charge Mr. Noah Shinn, father of Christopher Shinn, with getting Timothy Burger killed, along with armed robbery, robbery in concert with two or more others, conspiracy resulting in homicide, and all the other special allegations that go with home invasions that get people killed. He wasn't there but the DA wants to put Mr. Noah Shinn away for a long, long time because the DA thinks that Noah Shinn sent his son and his son's two friends to Steele Lane that morning. And sent Timothy Burger, 21, to his death.
Christopher Shinn and Tyrone Bell are looking at a similar array of charges.
By the time Detective Andrew Whittaker got to the scene, it was starting to rain and something had to be done with the body. Whittaker traced the blood trail from the body back to the living room and called for a body bag. It was pretty clear what had happened.
Sergeant Mike Davis had been the first cop on the scene. He’s been wearing the uniform in Mendocino County for 15 years. He lives in the Laytonville area. Davis has probably seen more homicides than you and I have even seen on TV.
Davis's are volunteer firefighters. He monitors law enforcement radio transmissions as devotionally as some of us here in Mendocino County listen to Amy Goodman’s War & Peace Report on KZYX. When Davis heard that the EMTs had been called to a home-invasion shooting in Laytonville, he lit up the light bar on his Crown Vic interceptor and stepped on the gas. He nosed around and shouldered past the fire trucks that turned in on Steele Lane, then sped up to the scene, determined that neither his sons nor any other first-responder would enter such a bloody area before he’d made a security sweep.
“I called myself out,” he told the prosecuting attorney, Deputy DA Ray Killion, when the prosecutor asked how he’d been dispatched to the scene.
But these things never unfold in chronological order. It’s like reading a suspense story. You get little glimpses here and there. Maybe there’s nothing more to it than chance. But for some reason Detective Andy Whittaker was called to the stand first, while Sgt. Davis had to wait in the hall.
Mr. Killion prefaced his questioning with a reference to section 56.1 of the California Criminal law book. The section deals with juveniles who get involved in serious crimes. Then he started asking Det. Whittaker about the homicide he investigated last fall in Laytonville.
“Sergeant Davis and some other deputies were already on the scene when I got there,” the detective said.
“Can you describe the scene?”
“Yes. It’s a rural property, one house at the end of a long driveway off Steele Lane. A one-story structure. There were a couple of vehicles parked there and a deceased person laying in the driveway.”
“An outbuilding, storage shed, garage-type structure, and a few civilians standing around.”
“Did you speak to any of the civilians?”
“I briefly spoke with two persons, as I recall, Ernie Sanders and David Loggins. Mr. Sanders advised me he’d been shot with some type of pellet gun in the area of his knee.”
“Did he say how he came to be shot?”
“He said some folks came in the house and he was shot in the leg.”
Come on in, folks. Nice to see you kind of folks?
No, the other kind.
“Then what did you do?”
“The weather turned on us, and it began to rain. Something had to be done with the body.”
At this point, Killion asked about the way the dead man was dressed and we learned about the paintball gear. Some photographs were entered into evidence.
“Were you able to identify the person in the photograph?”
“Not at the scene. Lieutenant Noe had the victim’s wallet, a Timothy Burger from Sacramento. He had recently moved there from another state.”
The next photograph was of Ernie Sanders’ right knee.
“The red dots are where the lead pellets struck his leg,” Det. Whittaker explained.
Another photo showed a bullet in the door casing, some broken glass from flying lead.
“When you entered the living room, did anything catch your attention?”
“Yes. There was a firearm lying on the coffee table.”
This proved to be the Ruger Blackhawk Jill Cahill had used to defend her and her home with.
“There was drying marijuana hanging from bailing wire.”
Killion had the detective draw the floor plan of the house to give the court an idea of where everyone was when the shooting started. Apparently Cahill had come out of her bedroom and was between the living room and the kitchen when she fired three times in the general direction of the intruders.
The Blackhawk is a six-shooter. She had three live rounds left in the gun.
“Were you assigned to cover the autopsy?”
“When was that?”
“On November 1st, 2010.”
“Who did it?”
“Was anyone there besides you and Dr. Trent?”
“Not that I recall, no.”
“I’m showing you a photograph of the body bag. Timothy Burger was put in the body bag at the scene. Were you present?”
“I was, yes.”
“Do you recognize this photograph?”
“Yes. It’s Timothy Burger with a hole in his chest.”
“And this one?”
“Again, it’s Mr. Burger. This time from the back, with another bullet hole in the shoulder blade, the exit wound.”
“Were you able to determine the cause of death?”
“Yes. It was a gunshot wound to the chest.”
“Was the bullet recovered?”
“No. It was a through and through shot.”
“Did it hit any vital organs?”
“Yes. It went through both lungs and hit an artery at the top of the heart.”
“Was there any evidence as to where Mr. Burger was standing when he was shot?”
“Yes, there was lots of blood inside the front door, and exiting the house into the front yard and driveway.”
Killion asked a few more questions about the vehicles in the driveway, the weed patch in the back yard, the sheds and garage, all of which seemed to contain marijuana.
Public Defender Linda Thompson rose to cross-examine the detective. Thompson had the detective draw a few details on the sketch, such as the vehicles in the driveway.
“And were these all civilian vehicles?” she asked.
Then she had him draw where the crime scene tape was.
“So the law enforcement vehicles were back behind the tape?”
“That’s correct. About 15 yards down the hill.”
“Was it Sergeant Davis that gave you a summary of events when you arrived?”
“It was my understanding that Ms. Cahill and the others were outside when law enforcement made their protective sweep, is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Did Sergeant Davis indicate that Mr. Loggins was at the scene when he arrived?”
“Any idea what time the 911 call came in?”
“No. That would be available at Dispatch. They would have the time log.”
“Would it be safe to say that your first observation was of the decedent?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Any sign of the vehicles used by the suspects?”
“The suspects were seen on foot and fled on foot. That was the information provided to me,” Whittaker said.
“Now, Mr. Loggins was — we don’t know whether Mr. Loggins did anything to the decedent before law enforcement got there, do we?”
“And there was a walk-through video made of the scene which included all areas of the house, correct?”
“And everything was photographed just as it was prior to anyone having moved or touched anything, correct?”
“And when you retrieved and seized items of evidence you gave them labels with a number, correct?”
“And you can describe where each item came from, correct?”
Thompson looked at some notes and said, “There was a mask, shoes, latex gloves, goggles found with Mr. Burger, correct?”
“You did not in fact find any ID on Mr. Burger, correct?”
“And you did not find any firearm with him, correct?”
“The latex gloves were retrieved and placed in an evidence bag at the scene?”
“Were his hands covered before he was placed in the body bag?”
“Other than the latex gloves, no.”
“Were swabs taken of the blood droplets?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“When you entered the residence there was a motorcycle, some firewood and tools, correct?”
“Did you find any blood in that location?”
“Yes. There was a little step there with some blood on the mat.”
“And there was something on the motorcycle, like a cover?”
“Yes, I believe it was a yellow rainjacket.”
“Do you recall where the woodstove was?”
“I do, vaguely.”
“Near the entry to the kitchen?”
“Anything else there?”
“A chair and an ottoman or footstool.”
“And Mr. Sanders was sitting on the ottoman loading wood into the stove?”
“That’s what I was told. And a female sleeping on the couch.”
“Did you notice the scent of Mace or pepper spray?”
“Did you go through the entire residence?”
“Did you find any other firearms?”
“No, just the one.”
“And Mr. Sanders was shot with a pellet.”
“It looked like some kind of birdshot. He dug it out of his leg and put it in a container.”
“And Mr. Sanders did not request any medical attention?”
“No, he did not.”
“Did you request a GSR [gunshot resident test] on Ms. Cahill and the others?”
“I did. They wanted to get the Mace and pepper spray washed off as soon as possible.”
The .357 was Ms. Cahill’s?”
“That was my understanding.”
“You did not question her about it?”
“I did not.”
“Did you or other law enforcement canvass the area?”
“Yes, the patrol deputies did.”
Thompson's question led nowhere.
Sergeant Michael Davis was called.
Davis's testimony confirmed what had been reported by Detective Whittaker.
The next day, Ms. Cahill took the stand and told the court much the same thing in her own words. She was subdued and grieved quietly as she recalled the shooting.
“What were Kathy and Ernie doing at your house?”
“And the revolver? Where’d that come from?”
“I borrowed it from my neighbors.”
“How long had you had it?”
“A week or two.”
Judge David Nelson has been hearing the case, and it generally convenes when he is free from his regular duties in the juvenile court. The case is expected to continue for several weeks as Judge Nelson’s schedule allows.