OROVILLE -- A Vallejo man went on trial Wednesday, charged with the murders of two of three men killed in a gun battle during a marijuana buy at an Oroville motel in 2006.
Though there is no evidence Deandre Tyrone Lowe, now 39, was ever armed, prosecutors are charging him with murder under the so-called "felony murder rule," which holds accomplices liable for deaths that occur during certain serious crimes.
According to police reports, during the Oct. 22, 2006, transaction at the Best Value Inn in Oroville, one of four would-be buyers, Dejuan Dean, 34, of Vallejo, pulled a gun and ordered the other two men with him -- including Lowe -- to scoop up the money and drugs, from three Concow area pot sellers.
Thomas Kile, 37, of Concow, pulled his own gun at that point. In the ensuing gun battle, Kile, Dean and a second drug buyer, Lee Miles Nixon, 33, were killed.
Lowe's Oakland attorney, Mario Andrews told Lowe's jury Wednesday the government reasoned, "Three men are dead and someone has to pay."
The defense attorney pointed out all three of the surviving white marijuana sellers involved in the deal were allowed to plead guilty to "simple drug charges" and a fourth man, who rode with them to the motel, was not charged at all because he had no criminal record and would make a "perfect witness" for the prosecution.
Conversely, Andrews told the all-white seven-man, five-woman jury the prosecution saw Lowe as the "perfect defendant" to take the rap Advertisement for the deaths, because he was from out of town, had twice gone to prison for drug-related crimes and, "he's black, too."
District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who is prosecuting the case, contends Lowe drove up with the other two men from the Bay Area, carrying a roll of "flash money" intended to put the sellers off their guard.
The $12,000 was far less than needed to purchase the 20 pounds of pot, much of which was medical marijuana.
Inside the motel room following the deadly shoot-out, police found a package of plastic zip-lock ties containing Nixon's fingerprints, which the prosecution contends the three Bay Area men had brought to tie up the sellers.
"This was a drug rip-off gone horribly and predictable bad," Ramsey said.
Testifying for the prosecution Wednesday were two of the convicted pot sellers, Joshua Roberts, now 23, of Oroville, and Jeffrey Hutton, 38, of Concow and a friend of Hutton's who was never charged in the case, Philip Velador of Red Bluff.
Velador, a licensed vocational nurse, claimed that on the day of ill-fated drug deal, he had gone up to visit Hutton, a close friend since high school, to help him trim some of his medical marijuana and watch football.
He denied taking part in the drug deal, saying he only went along for the ride that afternoon. Roberts and a third co-defendant, Shaun McDeavitt, were paroled only a few weeks ago after serving identical four-year prison sentences based on a felony drug plea.
Hutton testified Wednesday he drew 150 days in jail and 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to transportation of marijuana.
He told the jury Kile had called earlier in the day to ask if he could supply some marijuana for the large transaction that was being set up. Hutton testified he brought about three pounds of his medical marijuana over to Kile's home.
Roberts, who admitted to being the "middle-man" in the deal, testified Nixon asked weeks earlier if he could arrange a sale of from five to 20 pounds of marijuana.
Roberts said Dean, in a phone call before the transaction, objected that the $2,800 per-pound price was too high. He said they also haggled over the location of the drug deal, with the buyers preferring to meet in Sacramento and the sellers wanting it closer to their Concow homes.
Hutton, Roberts and Velador told the jury Wednesday they did not know anyone in their group was armed that day.
Once at the motel, Dean continued to object to the price, before excusing him to go into the restroom and emerging a few seconds later with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, the sellers testified.
He fired a shot into the ceiling, ordered everyone onto the floor and directed his companions to grab the pot. That's when Kile pulled his own .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and fired at Dean, Ramsey told the jury.
Nixon was found dead sprawled in a pool of blood in the motel doorway. Kile was fatally wounded inside the motel room and died later that night at a local hospital, as did Dean, who managed to crawl out into he motel parking lot before collapsing, his gun next to him.
Hutton told the jury he fled, but thought better of it and returned to the motel to surrender to police. Roberts was apprehended with the aid of a K-9 unit, and McDeavitt turned himself into his parole officer. Velador had taken refuge in a closet. Ramsey told the jury Lowe was arrested nearly a year later in Seattle.
The trial is scheduled to resume today and could be in the jury's hands by the end of next week.
More than a dozen family members and friends of Lowe said they plan to commute from Vallejo every day for the trial.
Kile's family was also present. His mother complained outside of court that until the trial, she had never received details of how her son died, nor were family members allowed to see his body at the hospital the night of the gunfight.
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