Jury finds Merced man guilty of ball-peen hammer murder

David Wickersham
David Wickersham Merced Sun-Star

A 59-year-old man a prosecutor called "the malingering murderer" probably will spend the rest of his life in prison after a Merced County jury determined Friday he was sane when he bludgeoned and stabbed a man to death in 2009.

David John Wickersham was convicted of killing 59-year-old Roger David Burnett. The crime happened about 2 a.m. May 16, 2009, at the victim's 260 E. Main St. home.

Jurors found Wickersham guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday. Wickersham entered a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The sanity phase of his trial closed Friday.

Deputy Public Defender Tony Green, who represented Wickersham with Deputy Public Defender Todd McLean, didn't dispute that his client killed Burnett. But he argued that Wickersham's history of mental illness prevented him from understanding the nature of his actions.

Green mentioned his client's visits to mental health facilities dating to the late 1960s and early '70s. During those visits, he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Fresno psychologist Richard Blak testified that Wickersham also suffered from delusions.

Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum argued Wickersham had a clear intent to kill, stabbing the victim 21 times and hitting him in the head with a ball-peen hammer. Slocum said Wickersham washed the victim's blood off the hammer, an indication the defendant was "thinking about the nature" of the crime.

Slocum said Wickersham's statements to Merced police probably resonated with jurors. During the trial, jurors watched a video recording of detectives interviewing Wickersham, when he admitted to killing Burnett.

"He understood what he was doing," Slocum said.

Wickersham said he had known Burnett for 20 years, and had killed him while he victim was sleeping.

Two days before the murder, Wickersham encountered Burnett at the Starbucks on Main Street in Merced. Wickersham told Burnett he had no place to stay and had tried to get into the homeless shelter. Burnett told Wickersham he could stay at his place, and Wickersham accepted the offer.

Wickersham was arrested the day of the killing, after he turned up at a local health care facility with a self-inflicted cut on his arm, saying he had hurt his friend.

Judge Ronald Hansen is scheduled to sentence Wickersham in April. Wickersham has a strike on his record for a 2002 arson conviction. He is facing 50 years to life in prison.

Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.