Eric Rogers was 17 when he saw his parents stabbed and bludgeoned to death by his uncle at their El Cerrito home just before dawn in January 2006.
The convicted murderer, a trucker named Edward Wycoff from the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, is as unsympathetic as they come. He insists he deserves to be rewarded for ridding the world of two evil people, that he knew how to raise his sister's three children better than she and her husband did, and that, besides, they had the gall not to invite him over for Christmas.
Arguing to a jury that he should not be sentenced to die, he makes bad jokes that no one laughs at.
So it was an unlikely witness who argued for Wycoff's life Monday in the penalty phase of his murder trial in Martinez - Rogers.
Rogers, now 21, who along with his sister cradled their mortally wounded father in their home on Rifle Range Road on Jan. 31, 2006, said his uncle should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Later, he told reporters what a judge ruled he could not tell the jury - that his parents, Paul Rogers and Julie Wycoff Rogers, would have wanted Wycoff to be spared lethal injection.
'It would be wrong'
"I think it would be wrong for you to get the death penalty," Rogers told Wycoff, who has been acting as his own attorney in Contra Costa County Superior Court. "You, specifically, because you are mentally childish and immature for your age."
Rogers told Wycoff, 40, that he had the makeup of a 9-year-old boy.
Outside court, Rogers said his parents were opposed to capital punishment, and so is he.
"Killing and hatred is something I associate with my uncle, not my parents," he said.
Rogers said he recognized that it wasn't his call. "I trust the justice system," he said. "I understand that it's not up to us - it's the people."
The jury considering Wycoff's fate is the same panel that convicted him Tuesday of two counts of murder with special circumstances for using a knife and a wheelbarrow handle to kill Julie Rogers, a 47-year-old attorney and former member of El Cerrito's Planning Commission, and Paul Rogers, 48, a business and technology attorney.
Superior Court Judge John Kennedy barred Eric Rogers from stating whether he opposed the death penalty and what his parents' views on the subject were. The judge said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that such views are "irrelevant and inadmissible in a capital trial."
Testifying on his own behalf later Monday, Wycoff said his nephew was a "a real man" for standing up for his beliefs. Then he displayed the callousness that helped persuade the jury to take all of 45 minutes to convict him.
"To go against popular opinion like that shows he turned out to be quite a good person," Wycoff said. "I did a good job getting rid of his parents. It was the right thing to do. It helped a lot."
Humor falls flat
No matter what his ultimate punishment is, Wycoff told jurors, "I will have still won that free trip to Prisoneyland." When the courtroom remained silent, he said, "I can see this audience is comically challenged."
Last week, in his closing argument in the guilt phase of the trial, Wycoff used a pen to stab at a bowl of cereal and told the grim-faced jurors, "I'm a cereal killer."
Wycoff has never argued with prosecutors' assertion that he killed his older sister and her husband because he thought they were too liberal, were "too easy" on their children, and had snubbed him on Christmas. He had hoped to adopt Eric Rogers and his two younger siblings, Alex and Laurel, after the killings.
Wycoff's defiant lightheartedness Monday was a jarring shift from the earlier testimony of Eric Rogers and his sister, Laurel, now 16.
Laurel said her father was "one of the most intelligent and compassionate people I've ever known." Her mother was "creative and really kind."
She remembered the way her dad's mustache would move up and his eyes would crinkle when he smiled. Her mom would call her a "goofy nickname" while picking her up from school and do "a little dance" when she was excited about something.
Father's final words
Laurel said she tries to block out the last time she saw her father, lying in pool of blood in a bedroom with a knife stuck in his back. His last words to her were similar to what he always told her, she said: "I will always love you, no matter what."
"I never really understood it until now," Laurel said as relatives in the gallery and at least one juror wept. "I miss everything about them. Even things that would annoy me then, I miss."
The girl said she has struggled with drinking and drugs since the killings and now has a "very cynical view of the world."
"I've sort of developed a hate for humanity," the teenager said. "I'm not happy. I don't want to wear happy colors."