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Jury finds Rogers guilty of murder, attempted murder

Julia O'Malley
Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. listens to the mounting guilty verdicts April 22, 2009, at Nesbett Courthouse. At left is assistant public defender Zachary Renfro. In December 2007, Rogers fatally shot Jason Wenger and wounded Tamas Deak and Liz Rumsey in Anchorage. Shortly before the shootings, Rogers killed his father with a machete and wounded his father's fiancee. A Palmer jury found him guilty of the latter crimes last year.
ERIK HILL / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS
Maia Nolan, right, hugs Cathy Deak as Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. is led away following guilty verdicts on charges including murder and attempted murder Wednesday at Nesbett Courthouse. Nolan was a friend and former classmate of murder victim Jason Wenger. Deak is married to victim Tamas Deak, who survived Rogers' shooting spree in Anchorage in December of 2007.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

How should a man feel, sitting in a courtroom, waiting for a verdict to come in, waiting for 12 jurors to confirm what he already knows, that Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. appeared out of nowhere on a dark morning more than a year ago, emptied a revolver into him, stole his car and left him for dead.

Tamas Deak was that man Wednesday afternoon, sitting on a bench in courtroom 402 as the jury in the Rogers trial filed in and Judge Eric Aarseth read their verdicts:

"Guilty ... guilty ... guilty." Eight times, guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, robbery, assault, vehicle theft, eluding police.

Not guilty on only one count. Jurors decided there wasn't enough evidence to convince them Rogers attempted to shoot one of the police officers who arrested him.

Wednesday's verdict was the end of a month of courthouse waiting for the strangers who found themselves in Rogers' path that day in December 2007 -- Deak, Liz Rumsey, who was walking on a bike trail, and the family of Jason Wenger, a graduate student who had been warming his car when Rogers shot him dead.

Deak let his eyes rest on Rogers, the long skinny neck poking from his prison-issue shirt, his shaved head, his unkempt beard. He wasn't sure what he felt when a swarm of reporters asked him later.

Relieved maybe. Glad.

"I don't know what forgiveness is," he said. "I think there is no redemption for him."

RED-CARDED

When the judge read the verdict, Rogers face was so blank he could have been watching the whole scene on television. In a way, Deak said, he expected that.

It's one of the weird things that happens during a trial: Everyone -- the lawyers, the victims, the defendant, even the reporters who show up every day, get a sense of each other -- sitting in silence as emotional, grisly events are replayed in detached police reports, in edited 911 tapes and close-up pictures of bullets photographed through microscopes.

For weeks Deak sat quietly in the courtroom watching his attacker behave like a regular human -- blow his nose, nonchalantly scratch his arm, tell his incoherent version of events, his weak justifications for why he shot and killed strangers.

The anger dissipates a little over time, Deak's wife Cathy said. In the end, Deak just wanted Rogers out of the game. "Red-carded," he kept saying, like in soccer. In jail for life.

GOD'S PLAN

Two thousand miles away, in their separate offices in Colorado, Jason Wenger's mother and stepfather, Debbie and Mason Staub, listened to Aarseth's voice over the telephone as he read the verdicts. They'd already flown to Alaska, spent weeks sitting through experts describing their son's death, the details that ended any possibility of watching his wedding or reading his novel or holding his children.

Debbie wondered if hearing the verdict might ease something. But it didn't.

"Jason is still gone," she said.

The Staubs are religious people, and they don't believe in chance. The fact that the Lord took Jason, but protected Deak and Rumsey was part of a divine plan. They believe that. They believe that some good will eventually come, that with time things will make more sense.

It did feel good to see 12 strangers recognize that he was guilty, Debbie said. She was glad that she met the Deaks and Adrienne Bachman, the prosecutor.

This was Rogers' second conviction for murder. A Palmer jury last year found him guilty of killing his father with a machete and seriously injuring his father's fiancee. The Anchorage shootings began shortly after the Palmer rampage ended.

Rogers may or may not be crazy. But Mason Staub believes he's evil. He says Rogers deserves the death penalty. An eye for an eye.

"He hasn't asked for forgiveness. If he did, I think Debbie and I would be willing to do that," he said. "He doesn't seem to be remorseful for what he's done."

What remains now are the sentencings, and then Rogers will go away for a couple hundred years. Red-carded.

And the Staubs will hold on to their son's memory, listen to his friends' stories, frame his pictures, and keep looking for the good.

Find Julia O'Malley at adn.com/contact/jomalley.

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By JULIA O'MALLEY
jomalley@adn.com
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