A man who was convicted of murder for his role in a shootout with a security guard at a San Diego marijuana dispensary that led to his accomplice’s death was denied Friday an opportunity to vacate his conviction or reduce his 65-year-to-life prison sentence.
Kurese Bell, 24, was convicted in 2017 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his accomplice, 18-year-old Marlon Thomas. Thomas was shot by a security guard during a robbery in April of 2014 and Bell, who was 17 at the time, shot and wounded the guard during the holdup.
Bell was charged and convicted under the state’s felony murder rule, which in this case, held him responsible for Thomas’ death because it occurred during a robbery.
Changes to state law allowed for argument to set aside the murder conviction and re-sentence Bell, but that request was denied Friday because the case involved a “provocative act,” in that Bell shot the security guard.
Bell’s attorney, Patrick Dudley, also unsuccessfully argued to reduce the penalty imposed through a gun-use enhancement that added 25 years to life to his sentence. Judges did not have discretion to ignore the enhancements when Bell was originally sentenced, but the law regarding those sentencing enhancements has changed.
Dudley argued that Bell’s tumultuous upbringing and age at the time of the shooting were factors supporting a reduction in his sentence.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Eacret argued there were few mitigating factors in the case.
“This was an extremely serious case,” Eacret said. “The defendant chose to engage in extremely dangerous behavior.”
The prosecutor noted that four days prior to the deadly shooting, Bell robbed another business while armed with a gun.
Along with murder, Bell was convicted of attempted murder and robbery counts in connection with an April 21, 2014, holdup at Illusions Smoke Shop and the Greener Alternative dispensary four days later, when Thomas was killed.
Authorities said Bell and Thomas — wearing masks and hooded sweatshirts — burst into the Illusions 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, prosecutors said.
Four days later, Bell and Thomas stormed into the Greener Alternative marijuana dispensary, where they were confronted by security guard Henry Smith, working his second day on the job.
Three weeks after that robbery, detectives tracked Bell to a motel room in Buena Park, where he was arrested.