Evidence suggests that 31-year-old Samuel Birch committed the fatal shooting of a gas station clerk in a robbery the night of Nov. 26, an Arapahoe County judge ruled after a hearing that included surveillance clips from the crime scene.
“The court not only finds that there is direct evidence that Birch committed murder in the first degree, both (on) his own admissions of the aggravated robbery and the shooting,” Judge Ryan Stuart of the Arapahoe County District Court said. There is also “the direct evidence of video of the perpetrator committing the murder and somebody who knows Birch well, intimately, identifying that person as Birch and his voice,” Stuart added.
Birch sat for a preliminary hearing that was split between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18. In a preliminary hearing, a court decides whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial — it doesn't decide whether a suspect is guilty.
Birch is accused of walking into the convenience store at 8263 S. Quebec St. in Centennial — near East County Line Road, just north of Highlands Ranch — and asking for cigarettes and then committing a robbery, shooting the clerk in the process.
Surveillance from the convenience store showed a man who prosecutors say is Birch entering the store and appearing to ask for “10 of those” — likely referring to cigarette packages — and then asking for “all of it.” The clerk can then be heard yelling in pain. A bell rings as the shooter appears to leave. Eventually, a bell rings again, indicating a customer arrived, and the clerk appears to say he's been shot.
The court limited the number of people allowed in the courtroom due to coronavirus concerns, but the audio of the recordings could be heard over the videoconferencing program the court used for online viewing.
According to information released previously by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, surveillance video showed that the suspect pointed a handgun at the clerk, who put cigarettes and money from the cash register in a shopping bag. When the clerk handed the suspect the bag, the suspect shot him, according to the sheriff's office.
The clerk died after sustaining a gunshot wound to the left abdomen. He was identified as Mauricio Omar Perez, 24, according to the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office.
A second gas station in Centennial that was robbed on that same day sits on East Arapahoe Road near South Havana Street, according to a sheriff's office news release.
About 4:30 p.m. that day, a male entered the Conoco gas station at 10210 E. Arapahoe Road in central Centennial and pointed a handgun at the clerk, according to the sheriff's office. The clerk gave the suspect the cash drawer, and then the suspect fired a single round into the ceiling, the release said. The clerk was not injured and the suspect left southbound on foot from the area. Investigators also believe that suspect was Birch.
Birch was arrested for a separate incident Dec. 7 after Douglas County sheriff's deputies pursued him after a hit-and-run crash, according to testimony in the preliminary hearing.
Once deputies made contact, Birch said he wanted to smoke a cigarette because “he was going away for a very long time,” an Arapahoe County sheriff's investigator said at the court hearing. Birch's comment about going to prison for a long time suggested he could be guilty of another crime, the investigator said during the hearing.
Birch was arrested Dec. 11 in connection with the robbery and shooting.
The Arapahoe sheriff's investigator spoke with a woman on Dec. 11 who identified Birch as her ex-boyfriend. She had seen a photograph of a sweatshirt that she identified as Birch's, likely from what she saw in a news story about the gas station robbery, the investigator said. The woman told authorities Birch stays with her in her apartment and that he had left “for quite some time” during the time frame of when the two robberies occurred, the investigator said.
At some point in the weeks after the robberies, Birch woke her up in bed and showed her cash, telling her he had robbed a gas station, the investigator said. Birch said he had to shoot at the clerk because the clerk also had a weapon, the investigator said. It did not appear that the clerk had a gun, according to the investigator.
The woman said Birch still had the sweatshirt that surveillance footage caught the shooter wearing, which read, “No pain, no Jane,” according to the investigator. A plaid shirt and shoes the woman alleged Birch to have been wearing had been burned in the fireplace of their apartment, the investigator said. The suspect was described previously as wearing a black-and-white plaid shirt, according to the sheriff's office.
The investigator played the woman an audio recording of the incident at the first gas station on Quebec Street. When the suspect was heard first speaking to the clerk on the recording, the woman became “very emotional” and said the suspect was Birch, the investigator said.
A .22-caliber weapon is associated with the bullet recovered from the victim's body, according to testimony from Arapahoe sheriff's Detective Ben Bussard.
When authorities searched Birch's car, they found “a lot of” .22 caliber ammunition, Bussard said.
Bussard testified that the weight of the projectile in the incident is consistent with a .22 round but could not state whether it was consistent with rounds of different sizes and potentially other calibers, defense attorney Grayson Lindstrom argued.
Another person had identified the sweatshirt before the woman who identified herself as Birch's ex-girlfriend did, the defense pointed out. The person said the “No pain, no Jane” phrase may be related to a mountain area in Colorado known as Mary Jane.
Regarding “the sweatshirt collected that was supposedly painted over containing the 'No pain, no Jane' image, multiple people said they know what that sweatshirt was just from a grainy image,” Lindstrom said, arguing it's a widely known ski-related phrase in Colorado.
During a search of the apartment where Birch was staying, authorities found ash in the fireplace and what looked like a partially burned container of cigarettes, along with spray paint and a sweatshirt that was painted over in black, Bussard said.
Stuart, the judge, ruled that several charges against Birch will move forward. Birch had been charged in the incident with first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree felony murder, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, carrying a concealed weapon, theft of $300 to $750 and counts regarding robbery, according to online court records.
Previously, Birch has pleaded guilty to burglary of a building in 2013, to assault in 2013 and to criminal mischief in 2015, according to online court records.
Birch is set for arraignment on March 31.
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