A state appellate court upheld previous convictions of two men for the murder of a medical marijuana distributor whose body was found in a Long Beach alley, but reversed a portion of the sentencing that had resulted in them being sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that “the jury instructions were defective” in relation to the special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery, while affirming convictions of Kenneth Ray Johnson and Charles Anthony Mackbee.
The murder in question occurred on March 24, 2011, resulting in the shooting death of 29-year-old Phillip Victor Williamson of Los Angeles.
“As the prosecutor acknowledged during closing argument, the evidence does not conclusively establish which of the two—Johnson or Mackbee—was the killer,” the appellate court panel found the ruling, which totaled 17 pages. “Because only one of them was the killer and because the other one was necessarily not the killer, either one of them could be a robbery participant who was not the killer. As a result, the trial court was obligated to instruct on the additional elements as to both Johnson and Mackbee. Yet the court did not instruct on these additional elements as to either defendant.”
Later, the court justices said evidence presented at the 2014 trial of Johnson and Mackbee “overwhelmingly” established the two were “major participants” in the robbery of Williamson, and that they both “claimed to have been the shooter after the fact, yet one of them was lying because [there] was only one shooter.”
The appellate court sent the case back to trial court, where prosecutors can opt to retry two former Long Beach residents on special circumstance allegation, or push the judge to sentence the two without the special circumstance filing.
Macbee’s cousin, Marcel Maurice Mackabee is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, after being tried separately and convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance allegation of murder during the robbery in connection with the killing. His conviction was upheld separately in 2014 by a separate appellate court panel.
On March 24, 2011, at approximately 10:26 PM, Long Beach police were dispatched to the 1500 block of Pine Avenue, regarding a man being shot in the upper body. Upon arrival, they found Williamson, an L.A. resident, in critical condition and paramedics took him to a local hospital where he died due to his injuries.
He was not known to visit Long Beach often, but investigators learned that he was involved in the distribution of marijuana, acquired in Chico, to various medical marijuana collectives in the Los Angeles county area.
They have learned that he may have had several pounds of marijuana and up to $500,000 in cash in his possession at the time of his death, both of which have yet to be recovered. Detectives believed that he was killed for his supply of marijuana and money.
Officials believe Mackabee, after meeting the victims through a mutual friend, drove Williamson to Long Beach under the pretense of a marijuana deal. They allege Mackabee then returned to the victim’s apartment to retrieve more than $100,000 in cash after the victim was shot by one of the other two men.
City News Service contributed to this story.