A 17-year-old gang member pleaded not guilty May 22 in the robbery of two medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego that left his accomplice dead and a security guard wounded.
Kurese Bell, charged with murder, attempted murder, and robbery, faces life in prison if convicted. He was charged as an adult.
Bell and his accomplice, the late Marlon Thomas, first held up a pot shop on El Cajon Boulevard April 21, said Deputy District Attorney Chris Moon. The robbers were interrupted when an employee in the back of the store, unaware of the robbery, yelled to the front. The men fled.
Before leaving the dispensary, Bell aimed his gun at an employee and fired off a round, Moon said.
On April 25, the two men robbed a second MMJ dispensary, Moon said, this time in the North Park neighborhood. Bell put a gun to the head of a security guard who worked at the pot shop, threatening to kill him and the owner of the store, Moon said.
Someone entered the store as Bell and Thomas were leaving, Moon said, the guard reached for his gun, which he had put on the ground, and he shot and killed Thomas. Bell returned fire with a revolver, shooting several times and wounding the guard, Moon said.
Bell quickly left San Diego and hid in the Los Angeles area, where police found him in a motel less than a month after the killings, Moon said.
Judge David Szumowski ordered Bell held without bail pending trial.
California employs a legal doctrine known as felony murder, and that’s why Bell faces a murder charge in his accomplice’s death. Under the felony murder rule, a person who commits robbery in California can be charged with first-degree murder if another person dies during the commission of the crime, even if the death was an accident. That includes his accomplices.
Detective Jana Beard said guard Henry Smith told her that he shot the alleged robber, identified as 18-year-old Marlon Thomas, after Thomas and another robber threatened to kill him and the dispensary owner during the armed holdup. He (the guard) thought he was going to die,” Beard testified during a preliminary hearing for suspects Kurese Bell and Atiim Smith.