Drug Deal Turned Deadly: Trio Face Trial for Man Killed by Gunfire

By Alex Morgan and Dorrin Akbari

SACRAMENTO, CA – Defendants Khali Brown, Cochese Stevens, and Khalil Sabree wrapped up their preliminary hearings in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 15 on last Friday to answer to charges stemming from a drug deal that ended with one man dead and another in the hospital.

All three men faced felony robbery charges. Sabree and Stevens were also charged with murder, attempted murder, and possession of a firearm.

Judge Kevin McCormick oversaw the preliminary hearing, which featured testimony from four witnesses regarding the events and investigation that led to the defendants’ arrests.

He found all three liable for their charges and set pre-trial arraignment for May 13.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker first called retired Deputy Glen Petree, who had arrived at the crime scene on the night that the homicide in question took place. His testimony was used to establish the facts of the case.

On Nov. 29, 2018, Petree responded to a call regarding a homicide involving John Barton. The next morning, Petree went to Mercy San Juan Medical Center to speak with the victim’s son—who had been hospitalized after sustaining at least three gunshot wounds.

Through his questioning of the victim’s son, Petree was able to determine the events that had transpired on Nov. 29.

Barton’s son, he testified, had planned to sell marijuana to an unknown subject. The deal had been facilitated by a former neighbor. When it came time to make the exchange, however, two men arrived at the victim’s home instead of one.

Barton’s son led both men into his home and out to his backyard to discuss business. The men initially said that they were looking to purchase four pounds of marijuana for up to $2,600. After showing the men his product, Barton’s son began to head back inside.

It was at this point that the men allegedly ambushed him. One of the men grabbed the marijuana and headed outside of the home. A chase ensued.

The man carrying the marijuana pulled out a gun and started to shoot at Barton’s son before he was able to grab his own weapon. As rounds came at him from both sides, Barton’s son realized that both men were armed. Barton’s son claimed to have never fired his weapon.

John Barton was shot and killed during the exchange. Once his son realized what had happened, his focus shifted away from the two men and toward his father.

Barton’s son provided investigators with video footage from a surveillance camera in his home.

On Dec. 3, Petree questioned Cochese Stevens, who had been identified as a suspect on Nov. 29.

Stevens had been found at a home neighboring the crime scene. Having sustained a gunshot wound to his thigh, he had left a blood trail leading to the front porch.

A semi-automatic handgun and a red bandana were found under a car in front of the home neighboring the crime scene. The gun was identified as belonging to Stevens.

During his questioning, Stevens identified Khalil Sabree as being the other individual present at the crime scene. Petree spoke with Sabree on Jan. 30, 2019, in Reno, where Sabree had been taken into custody.

Sabree initially denied involvement in the homicide, but after being shown a license plate reader image of his vehicle near the crime scene, he admitted to being in the Sacramento area to purchase marijuana.

Sergeant Ralph Garcia provided further testimony regarding the license plate reader system utilized by the police department. Garcia had used the system to conduct surveillance on Khali Brown’s vehicle.

Photos and logs from the license plate reader system placed Brown’s vehicle near the scene of the crime at the time that the homicide took place. Both Petree and Garcia questioned Brown, who changed his story several times before providing a final statement.

Brown told the officers that he had driven Stevens from Oakland to Sacramento, where they met up with Sabree. Stevens and Sabree took Brown’s vehicle. Approximately 30 minutes later, only Sabree returned.

The third witness, Detective Rob Peters, provided testimony that focused on an evidence presentation consisting of text messages screenshots between Brown, Sabree, and a third party known as “V.”

Peters described the text messages and a diagram of the home where the incident occurred. Many of the questions asked of Peters were intended to clarify the context of said text messages, as well as any other evidence that could further determine the sequence of events and relevant defendants.

Following Peters’ lengthy presentation, Jonathan Charron, a firearms and tool mark expert, was called to the stand.

Charron was asked to provide his findings on the 60-plus firearms and various bullets found at the scene of the crime, as well as the victim’s autopsy.

Charron was able to determine that, of the six bullet cartridges submitted to the lab, half came from one gun and half came from another. He was unable to determine what gun the bullets came from, as he did not have one submitted to compare to.

Brown’s attorney, John Renwick, asked Judge McCormick if Brown could be released, arguing that the text messages presented by the prosecution weren’t sufficient to link him to the case. McCormick denied this request.

Attorneys Jan Karowsky, representing Sabree, and Alexander Asterlin, representing Stevens, then asked that a buccal swab—a DNA test—be assigned to all defendants; this request was granted by Judge McCormick.

Alex Morgan is a 3rd year Political Science major at Westmont College. She is originally from Santa Barbara, California. 

Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is
from San Jose, CA.


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