Longform

Shoot to Kill: An Antique Dealer Has One Last Chance at Freedom After Gunning Down an Unarmed Homeless Trespasser

Before the fatal shooting, there was the red couch.

It was soiled, stained, and reeked of cigarette smoke. A few days after bringing it into the Central Phoenix antique store, Ruby Sias realized it needed to be moved outside.

She asked the new owner's son to help her take it to the parking lot, where someone would probably take it away as a freebie.

"That's what I feel really bad about," says Sias, a no-nonsense, auburn-haired woman in her late 60s, standing behind the counter of the store, the light of a cloudy winter day shining through a window behind her. "That's what started the whole thing."

The morning after the couch was hauled out, on January 17, 2006, she recalls greeting her new boss at the back door to the parking lot as he arrived at work.

Roger Garfield, then 54, had been the owner of the Historic District Antique Mall at Seventh Avenue and McDowell Road for exactly two days.

He pointed at the couch, clearly in a foul mood, as Sias tells it.

"This is why you don't put things like that out there," he said, according to Sias. "Now look what's happened."

A heavyset, white-bearded homeless man was sitting on the couch, staring at them. Near him was a shopping cart full of cans and other items.

Sias, who worked as assistant manager for Garfield and, along with other antique dealers, sub-leased her own retail space inside the store, says her boss told the man on the red couch to get lost. But the man, who they later learned was named Robert Cain, a 49-year-old transient, argued with Garfield.

"Who are you to tell me I have to leave?" Cain asked the store owner, says Sias. "I can rest anywhere I want to."

Garfield tells New Times a somewhat different version of events. He says he allowed Cain to sleep on the couch that day and that the incident began after he took out some garbage and awoke Cain by accident.

When Garfield dropped the Dumpster lid with a bang, he says, Cain shot him a mean look — a look Garfield says he "didn't think a human could produce." Garfield says he apologized, then told the man, "It's probably time you go back to doing whatever it is you do."

Garfield says the transient, whom some in the neighborhood called Santa, began yelling at him. Garfield says he retreated into the store and locked the back door. Cain began shaking the metal-and-glass doors as if he were trying to break in, Garfield says.

That's when the store owner made the first of three 911 calls over 19 minutes. But the police never showed up.

Sias had ducked back into the shop to help a customer; she doesn't remember hearing Cain banging on the doors.

The antique "mall" has a cavernous interior, crammed with furniture and eclectic knickknacks on tables and shelf cases; lots of light gets in through glass windows and doors at the front and back. Chains and a padlock now secure the door closer to the shop's northwest corner. Back then, both that door and another front door a few feet east were kept unlocked during business hours.

When Cain suddenly came through the door nearest the corner, Ruby Sias — by then behind the nearby counter — knew he was being a nuisance. She wasn't afraid of him, she says, but she asked him to leave.

Cain stood his ground. He continued to harangue Garfield, who had walked up from the rear of the shop. Sias says Cain insisted that he could go anywhere he liked.

"He kept backing me up, getting in my face," says Garfield, who called 911 again. The police dispatcher told him to remain calm and assured him that officers would be there shortly. Court records show the dispatcher directed officers to a nearby vehicle collision instead.

During one of Garfield's frustrated calls to police during the confrontation, Sias recalls, Garfield told the operator, "What do I have to do, take care of this myself?"

Garfield retreated outside, through the other set of front doors facing McDowell Road. Cain followed him out. Sias doesn't know for sure what happened next, but Garfield says he figured Cain was going to beat him up, maybe kill him. Since the confrontation had been going for about 15 minutes, with no cops arriving, Garfield says he thought he was more likely to get help if motorists along the busy street saw it happen.

Once outside, according to Garfield, Cain said, "You better know that I'll be back, and when I am, you're going to welcome me. It's no more your store than mine. And if you don't welcome me, you may not live to be sorry."

The man walked off, Garfield says, as he held his cordless phone to his ear on his third call to police. Now that Cain was gone, though, there was no reason for officers to respond.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.