Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A judge said Friday she will hold a hearing in March to determine whether a man who was 17 when he was charged with murder in a botched marijuana dispensary robbery should be sentenced in adult or juvenile court.

Kurese Bell, now 20, was convicted a year ago of first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Marlon Thomas.

Under the newly passed Proposition 57, judges, not prosecutors, can decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults.

Judge Lorna Alksne denied a defense motion for a new trial and ruled that Proposition 57 does not apply retroactively, the only issue being in which court the defendant will be sentenced.

Bell faces multiple life terms in prison.

A jury last February found Bell guilty of murder, attempted murder and two robbery counts stemming from a holdup at Illusions smoke shop on El Cajon Boulevard on April 21, 2014, and an armed robbery at the Greener Alternative marijuana dispensary in North Park four days later.

Prosecutor Chris Moon told the jury that Bell purchased a car and bought a gun days before committing the two robberies.

Moon said Bell and Thomas — wearing masks and hooded sweatshirts — burst into the smoke shop and confronted the owner. The suspects were looting a small office when another Illusions employee — unaware that a robbery was underway — yelled out, forcing the robbers to flee.

Before leaving, Bell fired a round at the owner, just missing him, Moon said.

Four days later, Bell and Thomas stormed into the Greener Alternative marijuana dispensary, where they were confronted by security guard Henry Smith, who was working his second day on the job, according to the prosecutor.

Thomas couldn’t get Smith’s gun out of his belt, so he removed the guard’s entire utility belt, Moon said.

As the suspects and the store owner loaded cash and marijuana into bags, the owner’s mother came to the door with another man, and they were confronted by the suspects.

As seen on surveillance video, Thomas realized that he had left Smith’s gun on the floor of another room and ran back to get it, Moon said.

When Thomas got to the room, Smith picked up the weapon and fatally shot Thomas. Bell and Smith subsequently got into a shootout, with the guard being shot in the pelvis, according to the prosecutor.

Bell fled in a getaway car driven by Atiim Smith, Moon said.

Three weeks later, detectives tracked Bell and co-defendant Jonathan Collins to a motel room in the Los Angeles area, where they were arrested.

Atiim Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Collins pleaded guilty and got 12 years behind bars.

—City News Service