One night more than a year ago, Spokane police officers approached a black Chevy sedan that had been seen traveling erratically on the South Hill.
The car had slowed to a crawl on Southeast Boulevard after veering onto the sidewalk and striking a tree. There was a bullet hole in the driver’s door.
Officers found the driver bleeding out fast. Another bullet had pierced his back and exited through his chest.
Melvin E. Rouse had apparently been driving himself to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. An ambulance took him there instead, and the same night he was pronounced dead at 31.
No one has been charged in connection with the July 26, 2016, death, but detectives may have found a suspect: Rouse’s cousin, a 30-year-old suspected gang member with a long history of violence named Cedric “Dirty” Burton.
That’s the same Cedric Burton awaiting trial on accusations he beat and choked a 2-year-old girl in October, breaking bones in her arms and legs. It’s the same Cedric Burton who walked out of the Spokane County Jail the following month after a typo led to a reduction in his bond amount.
It’s the same Cedric Burton who racked up convictions in 2010 for trying to run over two men with a car in a downtown parking lot, and for serving as the getaway driver after a fatal shooting. It’s the same Cedric Burton who was convicted of assault in connection with a 2005 gang riot that left yet another man dead.
The morning after Rouse died, detectives were still collecting evidence at a house farther up the South Hill, on Thor Street near 29th Avenue. At the time, police said Rouse appeared to have been shot in the car while it was parked in the driveway, where they found bullet casings.
According to a search warrant filed this week, an informant told detectives that Burton showed up at a Spokane apartment several months ago, “extremely high” and “talking a lot.” He was there to buy drugs, the informant said, and the two had a conversation while waiting for another man to arrive.
When the topic of Rouse’s killing came up, Burton said that “it was an accident” and he “didn’t mean to do it,” according to the informant, who spoke to detectives in exchange for “assistance on … current felony charge.”
The informant quoted Burton as saying, “I was just trying to get high,” and “My cousin wouldn’t give it up.” According to the informant, Burton said that he and Rouse had “wrestled a little bit” before Burton started firing.
The informant said Burton ended the conversation by saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know what I’m saying. Forget what I said.”
Detective Kevin Langford wrote that the same informant had previously helped secure multiple convictions for drug crimes, but he added a disclaimer about the individual’s credibility in this case.
“It should also be noted that, while much of the information provided by (the informant) has been corroborated,” the informant’s spouse “has also been mentioned as a possible suspect in the investigation,” Langford wrote. “There is not probable cause to charge (the spouse) or anyone else for the crime at this time.”
Cecilia Burton is Rouse’s mother and Cedric Burton’s aunt. She lives in Lancaster, California, and said Friday she would refuse to believe her nephew was involved in her son’s death.
“He would never do something like that,” she said.
Cecilia Burton said that when Rouse got out of prison in late 2014, where he had spent four years for cocaine possession, he lived in a halfway house and then in an apartment with his son, who is now 12.
Burton said she flew to Spokane to help Rouse get back on his feet and apply for jobs. “I was teaching him how to do an interview, all that,” she said.
Rouse worked at a car wash, and then operated a clothing store in the NorthTown Mall, she said.
Cedric Burton remains out of jail and has not been charged in connection with Rouse’s death, but he is scheduled to stand trial in November for the beating of 2-year-old Jayonna Walker.
The girl’s biological father has raised nearly $7,500 to cover her medical bills on GoFundMe.com. Early this year, he posted a photo of Jayonna smiling with an update on her recovery: “She’s doing great getting her legs ready to walk.”
Cecilia Burton insisted other men committed both crimes and that her nephew is innocent.
“He might be many things,” she said, “but he ain’t going to hurt a kid.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.