San Diego

OB Man Sentenced to 16 Years in Shooting Death of Roommate's Boyfriend

“That one second doesn’t define me,” Thomas Francis "TJ" Burke said

An Ocean Beach man, convicted of voluntary manslaughter, said he wishes every day he could take back the moment he opened fire and killed his roommate's boyfriend.

“That one second doesn’t define me,” Thomas Francis "TJ" Burke said in court Thursday before he was sentenced to 16 years in state prison for the fatal shooting on June 22, 2016.

Jess Robles, 35, was shot once in the chest when he walked up to the door of the condo his girlfriend shared with Burke.

The shooting led to a police action that shut down the neighborhood around Voltaire Street and Catalina Boulevard.

“You cheated me out of my happiness with Jess,” the victim's girlfriend Larae Clark told the defendant. “I’m ashamed to ever have called you my friend.”

Burke and Clark grew up in New Jersey and Burke harbored romantic and sexual feelings for her, the prosecutor told jurors.

On the night of the shooting, a Lyft driver dropped Clark and Robles at the condo about 11 p.m., and she went inside, where she got into an argument with Burke.

Robles decided to check on Clark when she was gone longer than anticipated and knocked on the condo door, he said.

Burke opened the door and shot Robles once in the chest and once in the throat and told Clark, "He's dead."

Defense attorney Gary Gibson told jurors that Burke was "freaked out" by the situation with Robles and armed himself when he heard a bang on the door.

Jurors acquitted the 33-year-old pharmacist of murder and convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.

Several friends and relatives of the victim spoke at Thursday's sentencing hearing. Robles' father said he was disappointed jurors did not convict Burke of murder. 

“He planned his defense a long time ago, even lying in court and crying begging for mercy. Fooled his lawyers, fooled the jury and his own family but he hasn’t fooled us,” said Michael Robles.

Burke's mother and stepfather described a young man who was hard-working and thoughtful. 

“He had to be terrified that evening,” Burke’s mother Paula Mia Campo said.

Stepfather George Fleming said he’s known "TJ" for more than 10 years and never saw aggression toward others.

“During that time I’ve never seen this person they’re describing as a monster,” Fleming said.

When it came time to make a statement, Burke apologized to his family and the victim's family for his actions that night.

“Every day I think if I could take it back, I would. If I could erase the pain, I would. Every day it haunts me knowing that I can’t,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Judge Melinda J. Lasater sentenced Burke to 16 years in state prison followed by parole.

“He knew better. He had the background,” Lasater said. "He knew he shouldn't have the gun. He knew he shouldn't be drinking. The combination came together."

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