A man walked up to a convenience-store clerk and calmly asked for cigarettes. Then, just as calmly, he told the clerk to give him the contents of the cash register.
“It’s going to be you, your stomach or the money,” the man told the clerk. He added: “I can shoot you when I leave, or I can shoot you right now.”
The clerk placed cigarettes and money in a bag and handed it to the man, who said “thank you” right before shooting the clerk in the abdomen.
An Arapahoe County jury decided that the shooter was Samuel Birch, finding him guilty on March 10 of several charges related to the murder and another robbery committed the same day at another convenience store. The suspect’s statements to the clerk were recorded on surveillance footage.
Birch was accused of the shooting and robbery at the Circle K convenience store at Quebec Street and County Line Road in Centennial, just north of Highlands Ranch, on the night of Nov. 26, 2020.
Defense attorneys framed the trial as resting upon the statements of Birch’s ex-girlfriend, who came forth and identified Birch as the shooter in the weeks after the incident.
The prosecution argued that the evidence points to Birch even without the former girlfriend’s recollections taken into account.
Birch is in his early 30s and at the time of the shooting was living in an apartment with his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Olson, in west Centennial.
The clerk, Mauricio Omar Perez, 24, died of the gunshot wound.
In a four-day trial this month, the jury in Arapahoe County District Court found Birch guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and tampering with physical evidence.
‘You’ll find out eventually’
Because the suspect’s face was covered on the security-camera footage, much of the trial focused on whether jurors could be sure Birch was the man in the videos.
The prosecution pointed to DNA from yellow gloves found in Birch’s Ford Fiesta car that matched Birch’s DNA, arguing the gloves appear to be the same ones the suspect wore while committing robbery.
Birch also appears to be the same height as the suspect based on “height strips” — markings that indicate how tall someone is on surveillance video — next to the doors at the convenience store.
But the prosecution attorneys also argued that Birch spoke as though he knew he were guilty of a serious crime on separate footage from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Birch was arrested for a separate incident on Dec. 7, 2020, after Douglas County sheriff’s deputies pursued him after a hit-and-run crash, according to court testimony. In body-worn camera footage from the Douglas County scene, Birch repeatedly asks deputies for a cigarette.
“Would you light one of those for me, though? I’m about to go to jail for a very long time,” Birch says to a deputy. He adds: “I’m about to be in there for years, bro.”
When Douglas County sheriff’s personnel ask what his name is, according to the prosecution, Birch says: “You know (what) it is; you’ll find out eventually.”
Birch thought deputies were going to connect him to the Centennial robbery and shooting, said Lisa Gramer, one of the prosecuting attorneys.
Gramer told the jury: “Your common sense and life experience and reason tells you that his statements to (Douglas County deputies) were not because of a DUI and crash.”
Authorities found .22-caliber ammunition in the apartment where Birch stayed and in his car, appearing to match the bullet that killed Perez, Gramer argued.
Earlier testimony in the case from Arapahoe County sheriff’s Investigator Ben Bussard said 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 had argued during an earlier hearing.
One of Birch’s gloves tested positive for gunshot residue, Gramer said during trial.
Birch chose not to testify during the trial.
Defense attorney Lindstrom argued that “this case rests on the word of one person: Ms. Olson.”
Olson, 28, testified that she was lying in bed when Birch told her about the robbery and that he showed her the cash.
“I just turned away. I, like, rolled over in the bed. I just didn’t believe it,” Olson said in court.
Soon after, Olson saw in a news report that a clerk had been shot during the robbery, she told the court.
“I believe (Birch) said the clerk had a gun and maybe was trying to shoot back,” Olson recalled. (Perez didn’t appear to be armed, according to surveillance footage.)
Speaking about why she didn’t go to police right after Birch allegedly told her about committing the robbery, she said: “Honestly, I was just really scared.”
Birch burned items of clothing in the fireplace in their apartment to avoid being identified from the surveillance footage, the prosecution argued.
The defense argued Olson’s actions made her uncredible, pointing out that she didn’t end her relationship with Birch even though she was told Birch killed someone and committed robbery and she allegedly saw him destroying evidence.
“That’s not the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lindstrom said.
Olson ended her relationship with Birch after learning he had police contact in Douglas County, Lindstrom added.
The prosecution argued Olson did not want to believe the person she loved was capable of committing the crimes — and she was worried about “how (Birch) was behaving and what he would do,” Gramer said.
Gramer underscored that Olson was the one who reached out to police — it wasn’t that she ended up speaking to police because they found out about her involvement.
“She has absolutely no motive to make this up,” said Gramer, adding that Olson “doesn’t get any money out of this.”
‘Spent that money on drugs’
Birch was also accused of robbing another gas station on the same day as the other robbery, at Arapahoe Road near Havana Street in central Centennial at about 4:30 p.m.
The suspect in that robbery entered the Conoco gas station and pointed a handgun at the clerk, according to information previously released by the Arapahoe sheriff’s office. The clerk gave the suspect the cash drawer, and then the suspect fired a single round into the ceiling. (That clerk was not injured.)
The prosecution also argued that Birch’s “desperate” need for drugs fueled the robberies.
Around the time of the robberies, Olson had tested positive for COVID-19 — and she was the main source of income for herself and Birch, she told the court.
“He found out that his girlfriend was sick with COVID, and they weren’t going to have money flow anymore,” Gramer said.
Text messages from Birch show that he was looking for some type of pills, the prosecution argued.
“And we know that in the Conoco robbery, he’s much more agitated,” Gramer said.
At 5:07 p.m. that day, Birch says he has money and wants to buy the substance via a text message, the prosecution said. Shortly after, in response, he’s told to “come over,” Gramer said.
“And then the robbery at the Circle K takes place at (around 6:30),” Gramer said. “And you can see he’s much more relaxed in this robbery.”
Birch also later sent Olson a text that said, “I spent that money from last night on drugs,” according to a text message shown in court.
A key piece of evidence was a sweatshirt covered in paint, which prosecutors argued was the same sweatshirt that surveillance footage caught the shooter wearing that read, “No pain, no Jane.”
Olson said Birch asked her to paint over the sweatshirt and that it bore that phrase.
Authorities were able to examine the sweatshirt with several different light sources but could not see anything other than the outermost layer of paint, according to court testimony.
Lindstrom, one of the defense attorneys, criticized the way the sweatshirt was examined and argued more could have been done to see what was underneath the paint.
Authorities should have tried to “take a Q-tip and dip it in paint thinner” and test whether it would damage the outer parts of the sweatshirt to evaluate whether that tool could have been safely used to remove paint from the relevant part of the clothing, Lindstrom said.
The prosecution maintained that it was Birch’s sweatshirt that was pictured in the surveillance footage.
For Birch not to be the person who committed the crimes, Gramer said, “The coincidence would have to be you have a painted sweatshirt, .22s in your home, .22s in your car, gloves that match” the ones from the crime scene.
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.