Right away, Officer Chris McDonough heard a woman screaming and a dog barking.
Only moments before, the urgent voice of the dispatcher had interrupted his quiet morning patrol — directing him to a dispute between neighbors at 515 E. Rancho Road. The situation remained dangerous and unpredictable. Someone had a gun. Shots were fired.
Within minutes, the officer arrived at the rambling home near Payson Elementary School. He pulled into the driveway and walked cautiously past a large red sign affixed to a boulder for “Da Love Ananda Botanical Gardens.” He did his best to keep out of sight as he headed up the long gravel driveway and through an open gate, the first officer on the scene of a tragedy that remains a compelling mystery.
The release of photos, police reports and autopsy findings have shed light on a dispute about a dog that spun lethally out of control.
On that fatal morning, McDonough made his way along a chain fence separating the homes of Randall Dean Burnett and Mike Voden. He heard a woman screaming and a dog barking. McDonough spotted the woman in her yard east of Voden’s home, crying on her phone. He later learned it was Burnett’s wife, Brenda, who turned and went back into her home. The bag of Wendy’s french fries she’d been using to try to coax her dog Scooter out of Voden’s yard lay scattered by her front porch.
Scanning the yard ahead for the shooter, McDonough crept along the wooden fence. And then he saw it: a body laying motionless in a pool of blood.
The voice of the dispatcher came over the radio: Voden wasn’t listening to her orders to go outside. Ironically, minutes earlier, Voden had ignored the dispatcher’s pleas to stay in the house instead of going outside to confront his neighbor and dog.
Instead, Voden had told the dispatcher that Burnett’s dog was “messing up” his beloved garden. He went out with his gun drawn.
It would be the first and last time Voden and Burnett would meet. They didn’t even know each other’s names.
The Payson Police Department recently released officers’ accounts of that morning. The report shows Burnett died quickly, riddled with four shots. He fell a few feet from Voden’s door, his feet evidently facing down the driveway. Voden was spattered with his blood.
But vital details remain unclear, leaving the jury the task of deciding on Voden’s claim of self-defense.
Voden faces second-degree murder charges, with a case management hearing slated for March 3 and no trial date yet determined.
The following account of the investigation is derived from multiple PPD reports.
When Voden called 911 on Nov. 9, he told a dispatcher that some people and a dog were in his yard and he was going outside to check. He didn’t tell her that he had a gun in his hand, the holster discarded on his rumpled bed.
As Voden opened his metal security door, the dispatcher repeatedly told him to stay inside. Voden, however, had turned his attention to the man in his yard. He started yelling at Burnett to remove the dog.
“Get this, get this (expletive) dog out of my yard right now,” he said, according to a recording of the 911 call.
Dispatch said, “Mike! Do not approach them! Go back in your house!”
Voden continued to yell at Burnett and then fired four shots from a black Glock, leaving one round in the magazine.
However, the dispatcher missed the sounds of the shots as she talked to officers on the radio.
Officer Jared Meredith wrote, “I could hear the stress in the dispatcher’s voice build up.” He immediately headed toward the home and took cover behind a shed.
Meanwhile, Officer McDonough approached from the other side of the yard. He radioed to dispatch to tell Voden to come outside.
A moment later, Voden walked barefoot out the same doorway in which he had confronted Burnett. He had his hands up.
“I gave him multiple verbal commands to turn around and slowly walk backwards towards my voice,” McDonough said. “It should be noted that I had to repeat my commands multiple times in an extremely loud voice in order to get Voden to comply.”
When Voden was close enough, Meredith cuffed him.
McDonough and Gila County Sheriff’s Deputy Colt Maxwell then turned their attention to Burnett.
Dressed in a heavy camouflage coat and red T-shirt, Burnett lay face down on the concrete sidewalk a few feet from Voden’s door, appearing to have fallen forward.
McDonough found Burnett still warm, but with no pulse.
Meredith watched over a cuffed Voden, who sat restlessly on the ground, complaining about his arthritis. Voden then volunteered that he shot Burnett after he had attacked him. He had already told the dispatcher the same thing on the phone.
Dispatch: OK. Did you attack the other male?
Voden: No, I was in my yard, I was on my sidewalk, and he come up and started swinging at me. He (Burnett) was going to jump me.
With Voden secure, McDonough and Maxwell searched the home. They found Voden’s wife, Pat Rollins, 75, getting dressed in a south bedroom.
McDonough found a small handgun amongst bottles of vitamins on a nightstand near the couple’s metal bed and took it to the kitchen.
Once Rollins was dressed and in her wheelchair, he asked her to stay in the living room.
Across the yard, Meredith went to speak with Brenda, who didn’t yet know her husband was dead.
Scooter gets loose
The Burnetts had just moved into the rental home next to Voden and Rollins. Brenda later told the Roundup she is disabled and Randy had cancer. They didn’t have much money and a friend had offered them the home to lease.
They had barely moved in and many of their belongings were piled in boxes in the home’s large, dirt front yard. Their stuff was mixed among the property owner’s things, including two experimental aircraft. Most of it sat near the driveway away from the side nearest Voden’s property.
Only a few scrubby shrubs and a low chain link fence with two lines of wires stretched above separated the properties.
Meredith found Brenda standing in the front yard. She asked whether Randy was OK, then started crying.
She said she had let Scooter out that morning to go to the bathroom. However, the dog went into the neighbor’s yard. She didn’t know their names being it was only her second night in the home. She whistled for the dog to come back, but it stayed in Voden’s yard. So she woke her husband and the pair stood at the gate, dangling french fries in a futile effort to entice the dog.
Brenda said she then saw Voden come outside and start “shooting” at the dog, firing a few times.
“At this point, Mr. Burnett then began asking for him to stop shooting at his dog, entered onto the property and started telling Mr. Voden that he was going to get the dog,” Meredith wrote. “Mr. Voden then pointed the gun towards him as Mr. Burnett was walking towards him. Mr. Voden then began shooting at her husband.”
This first account differs from all other accounts in suggesting Voden fired at the dog before Burnett went onto the property. If that is accurate, Voden would have had to shoot at the dog before dialing 911, since the 911 tape records four shots — all of which hit Burnett. None of the other witness accounts make note of two different sets of shots.
However, the 911 tape captures the partially inaudible confrontation between Burnett and Voden that took place once Burnett did enter his neighbor’s yard in a final attempt to retrieve his dog.
The tape also records Voden’s statement immediately after shooting Burnett: “We got one down.”
On the scene
Soon after Voden finally came back out of the house on the command of the first arriving officers, Police Chief Don Engler arrived. He immediately spotted Voden sitting on the sidewalk in blue sweatpants and a gray shirt that said “Friends of Ecorse Creek ’97.”
Engler asked where the altercation had occurred and Voden nodded toward Burnett’s body. He said that the man attacked him.
Voden then offered an unsolicited version of events, Engler said.
“Mr. Voden said that a dog had been in his yard and the person on the ground had come over to get the dog. He said that person then began walking toward him and he (Voden) continued saying, ‘He (Burnett) shouldn’t have tried to take my (Voden’s) gun away.’
“Mr. Voden said that, during that incident, he shot the subject. I asked Mr. Voden who the subject was and he stated he didn’t know. He later said that the subject was a neighbor from next door, but he didn’t know his name.”
At this point, lead investigator Det. Matt Van Camp arrived. He noted Burnett’s body was lying in between a bluish-green, full-sized van and the corner of Voden’s home. The van had political bumper stickers tacked to its back windows, including Carmona, Terry Goddard, Stubbs and Obama 2012.
The position of the van will likely play a key role in reconstructing the chain of events. Police photos show the van parked just out front of the door where the confrontation occurred. The van’s position appears to block the view of Voden’s door from the Burnett’s property — and may have prevented Voden from seeing Burnett approach.
As Van Camp surveyed the scene, he made note of the medical equipment scattered across the porch. Van Camp grabbed his camera and started shooting.
His pictures show several open medical boxes, an oxygen tank with tubes running to Burnett’s body, an EKG machine and a stethoscope hanging halfway out of another box.
Inside the house, a bloody gun lay on the wooden kitchen table. It sat atop a stack of manila envelopes near a dusty Rim Country Gazette hat and a WHA HU hat. In the background, pictures of children and family hang on the refrigerator.
Engler asked Rollins what she had seen or heard. She said she was asleep and awoke to gunshots.
Van Camp and Det. Mike Varga decided that since Rollins was wheelchair bound, she should remain in the home during the investigation, but with a volunteer watching over her.
Outside, Voden complained of chest pains and Engler called for paramedics. He handed him a blanket and noticed drops of blood on his shirt. Voden said it must have come from the “other guy.”
Paramedics checked out Voden then McDonough took him to the PPD for questioning.
A police volunteer took Brenda to the station, where Van Camp sat down with her first.
Brenda retold her story, saying they had been trying to get Scooter. When the dog wouldn’t come, Burnett entered the yard and Voden, who she described as a white-haired man, came out and started yelling.
She said Burnett approached Voden with his hands up, asking him not to shoot his dog. Voden then turned the gun from the dog and shot Burnett, she said.
After the interview, Van Camp spoke with Engler and Varga about the 911 tape. The men said within one minute of Voden calling 911, he had fired four shots.
Van Camp then interviewed Voden, seated in a rear holding cell.
Voden told the detective he woke up around 7 a.m. and heard some noise outside.
For the next 15 minutes, however, he went about his normal morning routine. He built a fire and walked into the home’s open kitchen, where several large windows face out onto to the Burnett yard. He noticed a dog outside in his garden and went to his bedroom to find his gun. He grabbed his keys since the home is double-locked then he unlocked the security door and went outside. At some point before going out, he called 911.
Voden explained he wanted the man to grab his dog and go, but the man started moving toward him.
“Mr. Voden described the walk as not fast, not a run, but in between, as the male subject walked toward him,” Van Camp said.
He said that he first pointed the gun at the dog, which did not come near nor act aggressively.
He shifted his aim to Burnett then, thinking his neighbor would stop approaching. But as Burnett continued to advance, it occurred to Voden that the larger man might attack him, take his gun and shoot him. So, Voden fired four hollow point rounds, leaving one in the gun.
Voden estimated Burnett was three to six feet away, which is consistent with the position of Burnett’s body on Voden’s porch and the spatters of blood. And while Voden told dispatch Burnett was swinging at him, Voden never said that to Van Camp.
As the interview continued, Voden complained of tight chest pains.
Paramedics took him to the hospital and Van Camp continued his interview there.
“During my contact with Mr. Voden at PRMC, he made multiple statements that he was defending himself and that he was justified in his actions of shooting Mr. Burnett,” Van Camp said.
Officer McDonough stood by and heard their exchange.
“It should be noted that as I was listening to the conversation, Mr. Voden appeared to have absolutely no remorse for the incident and even stated to Det. Van Camp that several times in the past he has pointed his gun at people that he thought were going to assault him and they have stopped. Voden stated to Det. Van Camp that this man continued to walk towards him and he shot him. Voden made the statement that if he would have just stopped walking towards him he would still be alive today.”
Past gun confrontations
At a bond hearing in December, a judge learned that Voden has a history of confrontations with people often involving dogs and guns.
Incidents include one misdemeanor assault conviction 34 years ago in Michigan and several confrontations in Payson that did not result in charges.
In 2006, Voden reportedly attended a Payson Town Council meeting, pulled out a wooden gun and shot a rubber band at councilors.
In June of 2007, officers contacted Voden at Green Valley Park after he reportedly pulled a semi-automatic pistol out during a concert in the park. A man had reportedly walked his dog near where Voden was sitting under a tree. When Voden thought the small dog might pee on him, he reportedly shoved it away.
The dog’s owner asked Voden why he had shoved the dog, according to police reports obtained by the Roundup. In response, Voden pulled out his gun.
Voden later told officers the man was verbally aggressive, cursing and threatening to beat him up. Voden said as the man continued to yell, he reached under his shirt and pulled out his gun. He then put it on the grass next to him, hoping the man would go away, which he did.
Voden was never charged in either the 2006 or 2007 cases.
Voden was convicted of assault in 1979 in Michigan. A man was walking his dog when the animal got away, according to police reports. Voden grabbed the dog and locked it in his garage. When the dog’s owner insisted he would stay until he had the dog, Voden pulled out a blue-steel handgun, pointed it at the man and said he would shoot if the man did not leave. The man retreated and waited for officers.
Back on the scene
After leaving the hospital, Van Camp returned to Voden’s home and questioned Rollins. She said she hadn’t heard anything, but believed a dog had chewed up Voden’s hand and a man attacked him.
“I asked her how she had knowledge of what happened outside and she believed that what occurred was what Mike told her occurred,” Van Camp said.
Van Camp and the other officers then started processing the scene outside.
They lay numbered placards next to each drop of blood, spattered across the concrete.
While officers initially found Burnett face down, paramedics had rolled him over.
Van Camp observed bullet wounds to the left and right side of Burnett’s upper chest, but on the scene couldn’t tell entrance wounds from exit wounds. One bullet had apparently passed through his body and ended up underneath his right shoulder.
“In examining Mr. Burnett’s back, I observed two additional gunshot wounds that appeared to be entry wounds into his back and into his shoulder. I was unable to determine what was an entry wound and what was an exit wound from the bullets fired,” wrote Van Camp.
As Van Camp collected the coat and shirt paramedics had cut off Burnett, a bullet fell to the ground.
Varga noted in his report that as they rolled the body, two used rounds were lying underneath Burnett’s back.
An autopsy would later turn up two bullets inside Burnett.
On Nov. 13, detectives Varga and Chad DeSchaaf traveled to Tucson to attend Burnett’s autopsy.
Preliminary findings indicated Burnett had four gunshot wounds:
One bullet entered his right front shoulder and came out through his back.
One bullet entered his side and came out the opposite side.
One bullet entered his back, went down through his internal organs and remained in his back.
One bullet entered his shoulder from the back and ended in his armpit.
The report did not detail the trajectory of the bullets. The Roundup requested a copy of the autopsy, but the town denied it, citing privacy concerns.
What neighbors heard
Sgt. Joni Varga learned from neighbors that they heard several gunshots that morning. One man, who lives nearby, said he came outside and saw Brenda in her front yard walking back and forth, a dog following her.
He described Voden as “a little paranoid.”
Other residents said they were unaware of any problems between neighbors.
One man stopped Varga and said he had helped the Burnetts move into their new place and that most of the stuff outside of the Burnett’s belonged to Randy’s father, who passed a few months earlier. He described Randy as a “really nice guy” who never carried weapons.
At Voden’s bail hearing, several people described Voden as a friend and volunteered to look in on him while he awaits trial.
A friendly pup
On Nov. 10, Van Camp met with Brenda and Scooter. He took a short video of the white and tan-spotted dog. Scooter appeared to be “a non-aggressive and very friendly dog, and he did not appear to have any type of threatening type of behavior toward anyone,” Van Camp said.
The police reports and autopsy will undoubtedly play a crucial role as the jury grapples with Voden’s claim of self-defense on the doorstep of his home.
Arizona has a stand your ground law. In most states, the defense must prove that the person who resorts to lethal force in self-defense did feel lethally threatened — and had no way to retreat without defending himself. But Arizona law puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — and says that a homeowner has no obligation to retreat if "a reasonable person would believe that deadly physical force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other's use, or attempted use, of unlawful deadly force," according to the statute.
The police reports leave crucial gaps for the lawyers to argue, including: How much of the confrontation could Brenda Burnett have seen given the position of the van? Was her husband standing with his hands raised when Voden started shooting?
Can the experts reconstruct the sequence of the shots — and the puzzling position of the bullets and shell casings when police arrived? Was Burnett shot twice in the back?
One point remains clear: On that grim November morning as the police radios crackled — four bullets shattered four lives.