Shawn West grew the product. His brother Kyle went along for the ride. Kyle's pal Ricky Sherrets played middleman, and it was supposed to be their biggest move yet a 1-pound sale of Shawn's foothills-grown Nevada City pot for the wholesale price of $1,200.
They drove to the meet-up point, the parking lot of the Jack in the Box on Stockton Boulevard. They spotted the buyers, and Shawn West jumped into their vehicle with a pound of pot in his backpack to make the deal. But a third car pulled up, and it was then, Sherrets testified Monday, that he sensed trouble.
"Panic ensued," Sherrets said, of the 9:23 p.m. encounter the night of Jan. 26, 2010, when the silver Nissan Altima blocked his view of West, who seconds later quick-stepped it back to the car he'd arrived in, threw the dope in the back seat and "tells me to leave," Sherrets testified.
A man with a gun blocked their getaway and grabbed for the pot, Sherrets continued. West got out of the car and bull-rushed the gunman, who turned and fired, everybody agreed. The bullet struck West in the chest. Within minutes, the 26-year-old father of a toddler daughter lay dead in a fast-food parking lot in south Sacramento.
On Monday, Sherrets was the first witness to testify in what is expected to be a two-week murder trial in Sacramento Superior Court. The prosecution's target in the case is Andre Anthony Powe, now 23. Cort Parnell Milgrim, 24, pleaded guilty before trial. A third man, Joel Satchell, 22, pleaded no contest early last year to voluntary manslaughter.
"The evidence will conclusively show that this young man sitting right here, Andre Powe, wanted to rob Shawn West, and when Shawn West didn't want to be robbed, he shot him," Deputy District Attorney Charles Gonzalez said in his opening statement.
Co-conspirator Milgrim, who brought his 14-month-old daughter along, helped set up the robbery, Gonzalez said, and the dupe Satchel inadvertently acted as Powe's wheelman, according to the prosecutor.
"They got no money," Gonzalez said. "They got no marijuana. They just left a dead body."
Defense attorney Dionne Choyce countered in his opening statement that Powe never intended to steal any marijuana, that he never intended to shoot anybody. Choyce said Powe got into a disagreement with West over price and that the sellers returned to their car with his client's money. When Powe went to get it back, Choyce said, he saw West's younger brother with a gun. Then West charged, so Powe shot him, Choyce told the jury.
"This was not a robbery," Choyce said. "This was a drug deal gone bad. This was not a murder. It was self-defense."
In the 27-year-old Ricky Sherrets, the jury was introduced to the principal connection between Powe's small-time pot operation and Shawn West, a former south Sacramento resident who maintained ties to the old neighborhood.
According to his lawyer, Powe sold nickel bags of "dirt weed" to support himself. Choyce said Powe wanted "to step up his marijuana game," get into "the chronic" the high-octane smoke that rappers sang about.
Powe's pal Milgrim, Choyce told the jury, always seemed to have quality marijuana, which he got from Sherrets. The two worked together at the Golden Corral, a restaurant on Stockton Boulevard, Sherrets testified. They got high after work, Sherrets said, and Milgrim even helped him get a medical marijuana card.
Sherrets said he sold Milgrim nickel and dime bags of pot $5 and $10 dollar buys two or three times a week, until Milgrim woke him up the morning of the slaying with a major proposition. Milgrim said he won $1,200 gambling the night before and that he wanted to double his money on a pound of marijuana, Sherrets testified.
Sherrets said he called a friend, Kyle West, who got ahold of his brother Shawn. That night, they all drove in Sherrets' Scion to the Jack in the Box parking lot. Sherrets said Shawn West got into Milgrim's car, and "everything looked to be on point."
Then a silver Altima drove up, with Powe and Satchell inside. Shawn West popped out of Milgrim's car and hurried back to Sherrets' car. The gunman Powe followed and demanded the backpack, Sherrets testified.
"It's almost like time stopped," he told the jury.
The gunfire and the sight of his friend dying in front of him added to his shock, Sherrets said.
"We went in so blind," he testified.