Voices in his head led him to kill, Rogers tells court

TESTIMONY: Palmer man gives jury details of 3 shootings.

April 16, 2009 

Christopher Erin Rogers, Jr., views the gallery as his trial for murder and attempted murder opens Tuesday March 24, 2009 at Nesbett Courthouse.

ERIK HILL / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 2009

Under cover of dark, Christopher Erin Rogers prowled through backyards in Spenard on a dark December morning, leaping over fences and rifling through sheds.

In the pockets of a stolen jumpsuit, worn over bloody clothes, he carried a gun and bullets he'd taken from his murdered father's car.

Unearthly voices echoed in his head, telling him he had to kill, he told a jury on Thursday.

In an uncommon move for a defendant facing murder charges, Rogers took the stand. "Sure, why not," he said when asked if he wanted to testify.

The story that emerged over three hours mixed clear recollections of three shootings with vague stretches spent wandering neighborhoods in Spenard and downtown.

He said he heard voices in his head, voices that got more insistent over years and especially in the three months before he killed his father and maimed his father's fiancee in Palmer -- the event that triggered his Anchorage shooting rampage leaving one person dead and two seriously injured.

Also uncommon in a courtroom was the growing tension evident between Rogers and his attorney, David Weber.

The testimony began around 9:30 a.m. with the courtroom gallery full of victims, their friends and young lawyers interested in the spectacle. After promising to tell the truth, Rogers leaned back in the witness chair, seemingly relaxed, his beard twisted into two long points. A white Kleenex poked from the pocket of his prison-issue shirt in a gesture Weber, who is fond of flamboyant pocket handkerchiefs, took as mocking, prompting a heated opening exchange:

"Do you have a cold," Weber asked.

Rogers looked confused. So did the jury.

"That thing in your pocket," Weber said.

He did have a cold, Rogers replied. "You saw last week, I was snotting all over myself."

"That's not why you have that in your pocket," Weber said accusingly.

Weber then attacked his own client's lack of cooperation in preparing the case.

"Objection," said prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, rising to the defense of the defendant in an odd role reversal.

"Yeah," said Rogers, nodding at Bachman, sneering at his own attorney.

VOICES

Rogers told police the voices he heard were aliens because that's the only way he could think of to describe them. He didn't see a mother ship or anything. They kept telling him to wipe out the human race -- and there was a time limit. That's why he killed his father with a machete in Palmer and why he tried to kill his dad's fiancee.

It was a mission? Weber asked. A job? Rogers agreed.

"I thought they were aware it was coming," Rogers said about his victims. "Like they knew it was going to happen."

And if he didn't kill people, what then?

"Worse was going to happen to me," he said. "I would get tortured."

Did he want to kill people?

"I didn't want to, like I said, I felt like I had to. I didn't want to do any of that s--t," he said, his voice brittle. "But I did."

"The killing," he said a few moments later, "It was nothing personal."

And when he confessed to police, was he telling the truth? Weber wanted to know

"I was honest with them," Rogers said. "But there were some things that I lied about."

What did he lie about? Weber pressed: "Give me the details, the stuff you wouldn't tell the detectives. I'm much more tenacious."

The questions were part of Weber's theory, that Rogers lied to police, including his confession to the killings.

What about the police, did Rogers try to kill any police? Weber asked. Rogers has been charged with shooting at an officer.

No, Rogers said. He didn't shoot at police. But he said he did.

"Mr. Rogers, do you want to get convicted?" his lawyer asked.

Rogers leaned back in his chair and burped softly. "Huh?" he said.

"Nothing further," Weber said.

When her turn came, Bachman focused on details. The gun that Rogers used to shoot people in Anchorage, where did he get it?

In his dad's black truck, Rogers said. He drove the truck to Anchorage after the Palmer attack. He pulled into a gas station and sat there for a while. He wanted to take a nap, but the cab was cramped and bloody.

So he started walking, he said, with his pockets full of bullets and a loaded gun. He took backyards instead of main streets because he didn't want police to find him. Eventually he ended up on Lois Drive, where he saw graduate student Jason Wenger's Bronco.

"I could see that it was running," he said.

He went up to the closed window with his gun. Wenger ducked down like maybe he was reaching for something, Rogers said.

"So I just shot."

In the gallery, Wenger's father curled his arm around Wenger's mother. They'd flown in from Colorado for the trial. A tear pooled in the corner of her eye.

Rogers ran. Along a trail into a neighborhood where all the streets were named for dead presidents. He jumped fences and crept across backyards. He found a jumpsuit in a shed and put it on. He came across a big shed, sort of like a barn. He went inside and slept.

'DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE'

When he woke up, he headed back out, walked to Spenard, bought a 40-ounce beer and a pack of Camel 100s. A little while later, a woman on a bike path, Liz Rumsey, set him off. She was talking on the phone. She gave him a strange look, he said.

"I just got freaked out like she was talking to the cops, like she recognized my face," he said.

So he shot her too.

"I figured I'd stop her from telling on me," he said.

He shot her three times but didn't want to kill her, he said.

He climbed a wooded embankment and watched the whirling lights on police cars in the distance. He was afraid of getting shot by police, he said. He was afraid it would hurt.

But, Bachman wanted to know, if he didn't intend to kill Rumsey, was he really doing what the aliens told him to? That grand plan about killing the human race? Rogers tried to explain but got tangled up and didn't make sense.

Bachman asked about the next morning. He saw a man, he said, Tamas Deak, getting in his car. He grabbed the door, waved his gun. Deak fought back.

"It made me really paranoid when he started reaching out and grabbing me," he said. So he shot.

"I pulled the trigger again and again," he said.

Deak and his wife listened, rapt, from the front row.

Rogers stole Deak's Jeep and drove toward East Anchorage. Police had been looking for him for hours and finally caught up with him on East Northern Lights. They rammed his car several times to get him to stop. He told jurors he wanted to die, wanted police to shoot him because he was afraid to shoot himself.

Where was he going? Bachman asked. Home, he said.

"I thought maybe I could go back home and maybe things would be okay. Maybe I could patch things up," he said, trailing off.

"Of course, that doesn't make any sense."

The case should go to the jury on Monday.

Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591.

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