Fresno murder case ends in plea deals for lesser crimes

The Fresno BeeMay 23, 2014 

The case of three Fresno residents charged with murder in the July 2012 killing of one of their friends ended this week with a final plea deal.

Jeffrey Burrus, 45, Robert Garrett, 28, and Marcelina Garcia, 36, once faced the prospect of spending life in prison if convicted of murdering Billy Ray Burrell, 35.

But in the last of three plea agreements, Burrus pleaded no contest Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court to residential burglary, court records show. In exchange for his plea, charges of murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy were dismissed.

Judge Alvin Harrell III then sentenced Burrus to eight years in prison.

Garrett was sentenced in January to nine years in prison after pleading no contest residential burglary. In a plea agreement, murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy also were dismissed, court records show.

Garcia pleaded no contest to attempted robbery and conspiracy after the murder charge was dropped. In October, Garcia was sentenced to one year and six months in prison. Because of time served in jail, she never went to prison. She was released from custody and ordered to report to the state parole office in Fresno.

The plea deals were made after Harrell ruled that only Burrell had made a provocative act that led to his death. That ruling meant the defendants could not be charged with his murder by law.

At a preliminary hearing in February 2013, Judge James Petrucelli said Burrus, Garrett and Garcia and their friend, Burrell, were involved in plans to rob residents of a house on Callisch Avenue near Gettysburg Avenue and First Street on July 17, 2012.

Instead, one of the residents stabbed Burrell, who died later that morning.

The robbery, according to testimony, went down this way: Burrell called one of the residents in the home with an offer to buy a Rolex watch. When he arrived at the home, Burrus tried to sneak in behind Burrell with a shotgun. Garrett stood outside with a rifle aimed inside, according to witnesses.

The resident of the home, Mark Ferris, testified that Burrell and Burrus were beating him up as he tried to keep Burrus' shotgun aimed at the ceiling. The gun then went off.

Hearing the commotion, Mark Lamphere, Ferris' roommate, came out of a bedroom carrying a knife, Lamphere later told police. He tried to get involved in the fight and was struck, leaving a gash on his head. He was able to stab Burrell twice during the tussle.

Lamphere was not charged in the case.

Fresno police detective Andre Benson testified that the suspects told him the motive was robbery, because Burrus felt Ferris had not paid him enough money for items Ferris previously bought from him.

Garcia, who did not participate in the robbery, was charged after she admitted that she overheard the men's plans. She also traveled around Fresno with the men getting gloves and other items they would use in the attempted robbery, police said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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