Two men who killed a Los Angeles dispensary worker four years ago were sentenced to life in prison without parole Jan. 10.
Daniel Deshawn Hinton, 35, and Raymond Lemone Easter, 31, were each found guilty in November of one count of first-degree murder, with a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery. The two men were responsible for shooting and killing Matthew Butcher, 27, an employee of the Higher Path Holistic Care Collective medical marijuana dispensary in Echo Park.
They were also responsible for wounding the security guard at the pot shop, Urban Jones Jr.
Hinton and Easter robbed the dispensary in 2010 and fled with a hard drive, security cameras, money, and marijuana worth $10,000, according to prosecutors. But Easter went back and shot both victims in the back of their heads while they were lying on the ground.
At the sentencing hearing, Butcher’s mother, Julie, remembered her son’s childhood, his love of balls and dogs, his intelligence and his generosity. Julie Butcher wrote about the trial using the social media hashtag #JusticeForMateo.
“For a while, our little world was divided into balls and dogs,” she said. “He was a sweet baby, a delightful child, smart, stubborn and inquisitive. He’d give you the shirt off his back. There was no reason to kill him, there was no need to kill him.”
Though violent crimes at pot shops in California happen from time to time, they’re not especially common. A study in 2012 found no correlation between the state’s dispensaries and crime rates, violent or otherwise. In Colorado, where the first recreational marijuana stores opened Jan. 1, only one of dozens was burglarized in the first few days.
Still, the situation is precarious for business owners, thanks mostly to the federal government.
Medical cannabis is legal in California and has been since voters approved it by referendum in 1996. But it remains illegal under federal law, and the federal government has a long record of prosecuting and jailing providers in the Golden State.
The Obama administration also makes it impossible for weed businesses to use banks and other financial institutions. By law, these financiers cannot assist anyone who may be violating federal law. This forces dispensaries to deal strictly in cash, an encouragement to robbery.
At the same time, the DEA prevents most security companies from guarding pot shops or marijuana shipments. This leaves the shops even more vulnerable.
Federal officials have promised to look for a solution to these problems, but no action has been forthcoming. And any fix would likely fall short of a change to actual law – which is the only step that would convince most bankers to work with pot providers.