The man suspected in the fatal shooting of a gas-station clerk in a robbery in November in west Centennial pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in early 2022.
Samuel Birch, who is in his early 30s, entered his plea at an arraignment hearing July 27 in Arapahoe County District Court. Birch is set for trial beginning Jan. 10.
Birch sat for a preliminary hearing in February this year, where prosecutors argued that evidence suggests Birch committed the murder.
“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 said during the hearing. 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.
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. The judge cleared the way for Birch to go on trial.
Birch is accused of walking into the convenience store at 8263 S. Quebec St. in Centennial — near County Line Road, just north of Highlands Ranch — and asking for cigarettes and then committing a robbery, shooting the clerk in the process, the night of Nov. 26.
Surveillance footage 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.
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 Arapahoe Road near 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.
An Arapahoe County sheriff's investigator spoke with a woman on Dec. 11 who identified Birch as her ex-boyfriend. 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 in court testimony.
At some point in the weeks after the robberies, Birch woke the woman 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 investigator played the woman an audio recording of the incident at the 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.
Birch has 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.
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