Two siblings were convicted today of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a drug dealer, who was shot in the back at his Desert Hot Springs home during a robbery that went awry.
Jurors who convicted Latoya Jenkins, 23, and Lavenski Harrell, 28, of the Feb. 23, 2009, slaying of Samuel Raye Cotton at his home on Calle Azteca also found true special circumstance allegations that the murder was committed during a robbery and a burglary.
The brother and sister face life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced Sept. 17. A third sibling, Curtis Lee Drake, 20, of Cathedral City, is awaiting trial.
The panel deliberated for about seven hours before reaching the verdict.
Cotton’s mother covered her face and burst into tears when the verdict was read. Nearby family members reached to console her, and whispered “Thank you, Jesus.”
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said in his closing argument that under California law, the siblings were equally culpable of murder because the death occurred during a robbery.
“They went in to commit a robbery. They brought guns along, foolishly, and the gun went off,” Bustamante said, adding that a half-pound of marijuana was taken.
The prosecutor said Harrell admitted to police that the trio went to the home with the intention of robbing Cotton.
Jenkins went to the front door of Cotton’s home and told his sister-in- law, Selassie Monique Winfrey, that she wanted to buy a “small amount of marijuana, a dime bag,” Bustamante said.
Winfrey let Jenkins in and went into the kitchen, where a short time later Harrell and Drake, who were armed, barged in, Bustamante said.
During a scuffle, Cotton was shot in the back, he said. Winfrey called police, but Cotton died in his kitchen.
Jenkins’ attorney, Arnold Lieman, argued that his client did not know about her brothers’ intention to rob and only went to Cotton’s home to buy some drugs.
Harrell’s attorney, Jim Silva, argued that there was no intention to kill Cotton.
“All the facts indicate the killing was accidental,” Silva said.
He said the brothers brought guns to the home because they were about to buy pot from a dealer and needed protection.