A loose dog in a neighbor’s yard led to a fatal shooting in a peaceful Payson neighborhood and conflicting accounts that suggest either self-defense or the senseless killing of an unarmed man.
A well-known, longtime Payson resident who prided himself on creating Gila County’s only botanical garden sits in a jail cell after police say he shot and killed his neighbor Saturday morning.
Mike Voden, 72, called police just before 7:30 a.m. Saturday to report that a hound dog was loose in his yard, at 515 E. Rancho Road. He reported an ongoing disturbance, said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.
Three officers responded within minutes, but when they arrived they found Voden’s neighbor, Randall “Randy” Dean Burnett, 54, already lying dead near the side door to Voden’s home.
The Roundup requested a copy of the 911 calls made at that time, including Voden’s, but had not received them as of press time.
Paramedics declared Burnett dead at the scene and took Voden to the hospital where he was treated and later released to police. Voden’s partner, Pat Rollins, told the Roundup Monday Voden was in shock after the incident.
She insisted he acted in self-defense. She was in bed at the time of the shooting and didn’t actually witness the confrontation, but was certain Voden was threatened by the much taller, younger man.
“If he didn’t have that gun he might be dead or seriously injured,” she said. “There is no question about it — he was protecting himself (from Randy).”
However, Randy’s wife, Brenda, who witnessed part of the shooting, insisted Randy had not acted aggressively and was only trying to get their dog, Scooter, out of Voden’s yard. She said Randy had his hands raised in the air when Voden shot him.
A grand jury will hear the Gila County Attorney’s Office case against Voden Wednesday and determine on what charges to indict him, if any.
Stand your ground
Arizona is one of 30 states with some form of a “stand your ground” self-defense law. Ordinarily, a person making a claim of self-defense has to demonstrate that he couldn’t retreat from a potentially life-threatening confrontation before resorting to deadly force.
The stand your ground laws don’t require someone to try to retreat from a confrontation, but the person who resorts to deadly force must still have a “reasonable” belief that he is in danger. The Legislature has amended the law to expand it so that people don’t have to retreat when threatened if they’re in any place they have a legal right to be.
The Arizona law also puts the burden of proof on the prosecution rather than the defense in proving whether the person’s belief he was threatened was “reasonable” before resorting to deadly force.
New neighbors move in
It was only the second night Brenda had stayed in the rental home off Rancho Road and Randy’s first. The small wood home sits several car lengths east of Voden’s, which has a large garden surrounding it.
Voden told the Roundup in September he built the garden for the community to enjoy and viewed it as a peaceful, spiritual retreat. He even named it after his wife’s spiritual leader Master Adi Da Samraj.
In his home, Voden showed the Roundup a wooden post near the living room with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” written in different languages.
Rollins said she and Voden actively volunteer in the community and Voden is well liked.
Many community members expressed shock upon hearing of the shooting. Many neighbors spent Saturday morning standing around outside the bright yellow police tape, talking about what had happened.
All the neighbors interviewed by the Roundup said they didn’t know much about the Burnetts, who had just moved in. Two neighbors described Voden as peculiar. Voden frequently carried a gun and once took a gun to a town council meeting.
Brenda said she didn’t know anything about Voden. The couple moved to Payson two years ago and was just settling into their new home.
Outside the Burnetts’ home, dozens of moving boxes were still piled up in the large dirt yard on Saturday.
Brenda said they attended First Assembly of God Church and the church had helped the couple find the rental. They had fallen on tough times when Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
A Navy veteran, Randy had just qualified for disability, but the couple had yet to receive a check.
The fatal morning
Brenda said she woke Saturday and let their two dogs out to go to the bathroom. When Scooter didn’t return, she went outside to look for him.
She spotted him running around Voden’s yard, but wasn’t sure how he got in since a low chain length fence separates the yards.
She called for Scooter, but he wouldn’t come back.
Brenda said she went back inside and woke up Randy, asking for his help in retrieving Scooter.
The couple unlatched the gate separating the two yards and called for Scooter. When the dog ignored them, Brenda suggested getting a ball to entice him back into their yard.
She turned and went back into their yard to find a ball to throw.
That is when she says she heard a gunshot. She turned back around and saw Randy holding his hands up, she said. She couldn’t see a gun, but she saw Voden’s face over her husband’s shoulder. She heard the men exchange words and believes Randy was pleading for his life. She said Voden fired again. Randy fell to the ground.
Brenda went back in their home and called for help.
Paramedics declared Randy dead at the scene. Investigators left his body in Voden’s yard for hours as detectives conducted interviews and gathered the necessary search warrants, Engler said.
Voden told investigators later that Randy had “approached him” and he had fired his gun, according to police.
Engler said Randy was unarmed and found no indication his hound dog was acting aggressively toward Voden.
Police have not released how many times Randy was shot or what type of weapon Voden had.
One man who lives across the street from Voden said he was sleeping when he heard what sounded like three gunshots.
Mark, who would not provide his last name, said he immediately came outside and saw a woman, presumably Brenda, go into the Burnetts’ home. He grabbed his binoculars and could see Randy’s lifeless body lying near Voden’s door.
Another neighbor, Deborah Rose, said she also heard the gunshots. Rose and Mark both said Voden was an odd man.
On the other hand, Rollins said Voden is “one of the good guys.”
She said Voden is active in the garden club, CERT team and does hours of volunteer work every month for various organizations.
“I don’t want a lot of attention, I just want justice,” she said.
Rollins said in the hospital after the shooting, Voden told her that he had heard the Burnetts arguing for some time that morning and then Randy had come charging into their yard with his dog.
She said Voden shot Randy when he was “pretty much on top of him.”
A gentle giant
However, Brenda said Voden could not have heard them arguing that morning because Randy was asleep. He only woke to help her get Scooter back.
Brenda described Randy as “the best husband a woman could want.”
The two met 15 years ago while at work. Brenda was a certified nursing assistant and Randy worked as a registered nurse.
She said patients referred to Randy, who was six feet tall, as a “gentle giant.”
His death has “just ripped my heart out,” she said.
Brenda is staying with Bob McQueen, a family friend. McQueen met Randy at the Christian Clinic where Randy had come for treatment.
McQueen described Randy as a very likeable person.
“He was very interested in helping other people and this was the first time in their life they had had to accept help from other people,” he said.
Both disabled, the couple did not have a lot of income.
McQueen has set up a fund for Brenda at Safeway. Anyone interested in donating can drop donations off at the Safeway counter.
“She doesn’t even have the money for a funeral,” he said.