Voden 911 call (Viewer discretion advised)
Call Mike Voden made to 911 Nov. 9, 2013.
As Brenda Burnett bent down to grab one of her dog’s toys she heard her husband of 15 years, Randy Burnett, calmly tell her something she had never heard him say before — “Brenda, if you should ever listen to me, listen to me this time. Get back into the house.”
Thus was Brenda’s testimony in Globe Wednesday on the first day of the trial of the man accused of murdering her husband — the couple’s neighbor Michael Voden of Payson.
Brenda heard a sound, turned around and stood up. Randy was walking further into Voden’s yard on East Rancho Road, his hands up, reportedly to display that he was not holding anything.
And then — ecstasy.
That is what Brenda testified she saw on Voden’s face over the corner of her husband’s shoulder.
Before she could say or do a thing, the gunshots rang out, breaking the silence of the clear, warm morning. The shots woke neighbors, bringing many to their porches to wonder what was going on in Voden’s botanical garden.
Voden shot Randy four times, twice in the back.
Did he act in a fit of senseless rage or did he act in self-defense to stop his much larger, younger neighbor from attacking him?
In opening arguments Thursday, lawyers presented two very different accounts of why Voden shot and killed his neighbor outside his kitchen door in the fall of 2013.
The Gila County Attorney’s Office chief deputy attorney Shawn Fuller said Voden shot his neighbor because he was enraged that a dog, Randy’s coon hound Scooter, was messing up his beloved garden. Only afterward did Voden try to deceive investigators and everyone involved about what really happened, crafting multiple accounts, said Fuller in his opening statement.
But defense attorney Michael Bernays said Voden was protecting himself from Randy, who had trespassed onto Voden’s land, ignored Voden’s demand that he leave and instead continued to advance on Voden, who had his handgun drawn. The defense insists Voden feared for his life, assuming the much larger man would take his gun and use it against him.
“It is horrible that a man is dead,” Bernays said. “It is horrible that Scooter is the cause of it all.”
Moving day turns deadly
The Burnetts moved in next door to Voden and his wife Pat Rollins, who sat in the audience Thursday in a wheelchair, after a friend at church offered to rent the Burnetts his cabin.
The couple had lived in Payson since 2010.
They met in 1997 while working at a nursing home in Prescott. He was a registered nurse, with a psychiatric specialty, and she a certified nursing assistant.
They became good friends and married a year later in Las Vegas.
Fast-moving prostate cancer later weakened Randy, but he was in remission when the couple decided to move to the new home in Payson. Just three months earlier, Randy had insisted on getting baptized again.
On the first night at their new home, Brenda stayed alone with their springer spaniel Molly, Brenda calmly told the jury. She only broke down when she stepped off the witness stand and fell, weeping into the arms of a supporter.
Randy arrived the second night and they slept on a mattress thrown on the floor, most of their belongings still piled up outside in boxes.
In the morning, Brenda let Molly and Scooter out to go to the bathroom. She later noticed Scooter had somehow gotten into the neighbor’s yard. She had not at that point met Voden.
She said Scooter was running around Voden’s yard, yelping playfully and having a grand time.
She went outside to a low, closed gate separating the two yards. When Scooter would not heed her calls, she yelled, “Neighbor, neighbor, my dog is in your yard.”
She didn’t hear a response.
She grabbed french fries left over from the night before to entice the dog back into her yard, but Scooter would not return. She woke Randy, who she described as a slow starter in the morning, and ushered him outside to help.
They stepped into Voden’s yard a few steps. Randy told Brenda to grab a toy to get Scooter’s attention. Voden had come out through his kitchen door, a handgun in one hand and the phone in the other. He was on the phone with a 911 operator who yelled at him to go back inside his house, stay away from the person in his yard and wait for police.
Voden and Randy had an exchange of words, audible but hard to understand on the 911 tape. Then Voden fired.
Shocked, Brenda ran back into their home and called for help, not realizing Voden was already on the line with dispatchers.
As her husband lay motionless on the ground, Brenda yelled out at him, her “sweetie,” that help was on the way and that she loved him, believing he might still hear her.
He died before help arrived.
In his opening arguments, Bernays repeatedly said Voden shot Randy out of self-defense.
He pointed out the shooting did not take place on the street or in Randy’s yard, but in Voden’s fenced property, his “castle.” He said Randy was trespassing, passing through a closed gate uninvited.
He said while Randy was supposedly in the yard to get Scooter, he made no effort to go after Scooter or grab the dog. Instead, Randy walked up to Voden at his kitchen door where Voden was standing barefoot with a gun.
Randy moved in such a way that Voden believed Randy was going to overcome him, grab his gun and perhaps use it against him, said the defense lawyer.
While Bernays said he does not know what Randy was thinking that morning, he clearly advanced on Voden despite Voden telling him to go.
And at 5 feet, 8 inches tall, Voden, 71, was scared of Randy, who was younger, 53, and taller, 6 feet. Bernays says he does not know if Randy was under the influence at the time, but he had oxycodone in his system, medical reports show.
And while the medical examiner cannot place the order of the shots, the bullets struck Randy once in the chest, one in the shoulder and twice in the back. Bernays speculated that the first shots hit Randy in the front and the final shots hit him in the back as he fell.
Arizona law says, a “person is justified in threatening or using physical force against another when and to the extent a reasonable person would believe that physical force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force.”
Actual danger is not necessary, Bernays said, just a reasonable perception of danger.
Voden had no legal obligation to retreat to avoid the confrontation under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Bernays said Voden’s actions were justified and the state cannot prove otherwise.
Voden, who appeared in a tan suit and camouflage slippers, took notes throughout the day of testimony.
A ‘senseless’ murder
Fuller took a completely different view of the case. He said Voden’s rage drove him to senselessly murder his neighbor, then attempt to cover it up.
The rage, he said is captured on the 911 tape. Voden on the tape sounds very upset people and a dog are in his yard and that the dog is running through his plant beds.
Voden knew they were his neighbors, Fuller said, based on Voden’s own statement to the dispatcher.
And Voden knew Burnett was in his yard to try to retrieve his dog. Nonetheless, Voden was enraged that anyone had the audacity to come into his yard, said Fuller.
Fuller said he will show later in the trial that Voden tried to deceive investigators, offering different accounts of events.
Brenda served as the first prosecution witness on Thursday.
Bernays tried to punch holes in her story.
While she testified that the gate to the property was near the Voden’s van, Bernays showed an aerial photo showing some distance between the home and the gate.
He asked Brenda if she exaggerated when she said how close she and Randy were to Voden’s home, saying 30 feet separated the fence and the home.
Then Bernays asked if Randy was grouchy that morning, since she had told Detective Matt Van Camp shortly after the shooting took place that Randy had been out of sorts the past few weeks.
Brenda said Randy was not grouchy that morning, but he had been previously due to the effect of radiation therapy for his cancer.
Bernays then questioned if Brenda really saw Voden’s face, since she told Van Camp after the shooting that she could not tell if Voden had a beard.
Brenda maintained she was in shock that morning and does not remember what she told Van Camp.
He asked why she didn’t tell Van Camp that morning that Randy had told her to go back into the home. And he asked if she ever saw Randy make any effort to get the dog out of the yard.
Brenda says she did not see Randy go toward Scooter.
Bernays asked Brenda if she was telling the jury a different story than what she told detectives that morning because she has a financial incentive to do so.
He pointed out that she has filed a $5 million civil suit against Voden.
In his rebuttal, Fuller says Randy walked toward Voden with hands up because he was not a stupid man. Randy saw that his neighbor had a gun and he was not going to turn his back on him to go after the dog, Fuller said.
Fuller asked Brenda if she saw Randy do anything that would constitute a threat to Voden. She said she did not.
Fuller asked if Brenda saw Voden’s face clearly.
“What did his face look like?” he asked.
“He was in ecstasy,” she said.
“Did it look like he was in pain?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“Did it look like he was being injured by your husband?”
“No,” she said.
“Did it look like he was being punched by your husband?”
“No,” she said.
“Assaulted by your husband?”
“Kicked by your husband?”
“Did your husband jump on him?”
“No,” she said.
On the topic of the lawsuit, Fuller asked Brenda if she would give $5 million to have her husband back. “When you woke up on that Saturday morning and your dog left and you went to go get your husband, were you thinking, ‘I hope this is the day my husband is murdered so I can file a civil suit?’”
“No,” she said.
The first to arrive
PPD Officers Chris McDonough and Jared Meredith arrived first at the scene.
When Voden came out of his home, McDonough said Voden’s hands were “all over the place.” It took four or five attempts before Voden complied with their orders and they could get him in handcuffs.
When they got him to the hospital to get checked out, McDonough testified he heard Voden say Randy was walking toward him when he fired the fatal shots.
He didn’t say Randy ran, jumped or attacked him, he said walked, Fuller said.
“If he would have just stopped walking towards him, he would still be alive today,” McDonough testified he heard Voden say in a calm, carefree tone, like it was “no big deal.”
With his arms raised above his head, Bernays walked toward McDonough and asked what he would do if a man approached him like this even though McDonough had asked the man to leave and had drawn his gun.
McDonough said if the person had the same demeanor as Bernays in the courtroom, he would re-holster his gun and go hand to hand.
“But you would use some use of force, whether it was your hands, a Taser or a club?” Bernays asked.
“That is my job,” McDonough said.
Fuller then asked McDonough if he could grab one of the waters next to McDonough on the witness stand. McDonough said fine.
As Fuller walked away, he asked if McDonough ever felt threatened.
“Do you remember on cross examination when Mr. Bernays got that close to you?
“Do you remember those questions?”
“Did you see how close I got to you to get my water?”
“You didn’t pull out your gun and shoot me, did ya?”
“I did not.”
“It would not have been justified, would it?”
Then he said, “Let me get the other water, walking again up to McDonough.
“Am I a threat? Am I a threat now? Am I threat? Am I threat?”
“You didn’t pull out your gun and shoot me did you?”
“Would you?” Bernays yelled from his seat.
“I object,” Fuller said to the interruption.
“I am sorry, your honor, Mr. Fuller was smiling and laughing at me and I inappropriately joined in the frivolity.”
The trial continues tomorrow in Globe.