Pubdate: Wed, 02 Jan 2013
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2013 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Reed Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch


Richmond Police Say 4 of 2012' S Homicides Had Robberies Involving

Marijuana might seem like a harmless drug to some, but local
authorities in Richmond say marijuana deals and the large amounts of
money involved in such transactions too often lead to violence.

Richmond police investigators believe that four of the city's 42
homicides in 2012 were motivated by robberies involving marijuana, and
about a dozen other shootings - maybe more - involved the drug.

And that doesn't count the innumerable other robberies in which no one
was shot, many of which never are reported because the victim doesn't
want to tell the police he was selling pot or trying to buy some.

"A lot of people feel like it's harmless, that it's kind of nature's
elixir," said Richmond police Capt. Emmett Williams. "At least here in
Richmond, there's still a lot of violence associated with marijuana
and marijuana sales."

In 2012, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring
prosecuted three men in connection with a massive operation that
involved shipping large quantities of high-quality marijuana from
California to Richmond.

The men were arrested after Virginia Commonwealth University police
figured out where one of the shipments was going to be delivered. On
May 4, police staked out the drop point in Richmond's Fan District and
watched a man arrive to pick up 267 pounds of marijuana, resulting in
one of the biggest pot busts in the city's history. The authorities
also seized more than $600,000 in the course of the

Two of the defendants, Jeremy Harrington and Eduardo Daniel Fabelo,
were sentenced to five years in prison. The other man, Andrew Fulton
Massengill, received a seven-year term.

Herring said he is unaware of any violence associated with the
operation. But the huge quantity of marijuana and the large amount of
cash exchanging hands got people talking in law enforcement circles.
And Herring said he learned from speaking with Williams that more
people get killed in Richmond over marijuana than Herring had realized.

Herring said it was interesting, as the marijuana case progressed in
court, to see the large network of supporters who turned out for Massengill.

"I've never seen that many people show up for a drug sentence,"
Herring said. "There seemed to be an entire community of support - at
least in the case of Massengill. And the consensus seemed to be what
he's done isn't all that serious."

He noted that marijuana users are not typically thought of as being
violent, as can be the case with people who are high on crack and
other drugs. But the money involved in marijuana transactions can be a
big temptation for criminals.

"Every year, we have three, four, five murders that generally are
related to marijuana," Williams said.

Proponents of marijuana legalization argue that prohibition of the
drug is to blame for much of the violence.

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy
group, said that if the government is serious about stopping violence
associated with marijuana, it should legalize it, tax it and regulate

"With any illicit industry, you're going to have a certain level of
violence," Fox said. "The marijuana market is not going away. Do you
want that market controlled by violent criminals or legitimate,
taxpaying businesses?"

There has been little support in the Virginia General Assembly for
proposals to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, much less the
recreational use of marijuana, which recently was approved by voters
in Washington state and Colorado.

One of last year's killings that Richmond police believe was the
result of a marijuana-related robbery was the shooting of a man in the
4600 block of Southwood Parkway in South Richmond in July. The victim
was found dead inside a vehicle.

Another was a killing in November in which a man was found fatally
shot in a car that collided with another vehicle at Larchmont Lane and
Peyton Avenue in South Richmond.

As many as 70 onlookers gathered near the crime scene outside the
Midlothian Village Apartments. In a sad and emotional moment, the
victim's sister charged through police lines toward the car that
contained her brother's body. Her father had to restrain her.

In recent years, marijuana dealing has been at the center of other
highprofile homicides in the Richmond metro area.

Last January, a 16-yearold Atlee High School marijuana dealer, Brett
Wells, was shot and killed in his Mechanicsville-area home after three
men tried to make off with more than $1,000 of marijuana without
paying, according to authorities in Hanover County.

The three men were convicted of charges including murder and
conspiracy to commit robbery.

In 2007, a former gang member killed 16-yearold Ryan Matko, a Thomas
Dale High School student whose father is a Richmond police detective.
Chesterfield County prosecutors suggested Matko was killed for cash he
brought with him to a meeting with the killer, Detavis J. King, who
had sold marijuana to Matko several times.

On the morning he was killed, Matko took a shoebox he kept in his room
containing $440 in cash and some drug scales, prosecutors speculated
at King's trial. King knew Matko had money and was going to charge him
$300 that day for marijuana, prosecutors said. King was convicted and
sentenced to 53 years in prison.

Last year in Richmond, about 135 people were wounded in nonfatal
shootings, Williams said. In about 20 percent of those cases, robbery
was a motive.

Williams said about a dozen of last year's nonfatal shootings involved
marijuana, calling it a conservative estimate. Some of those victims,
he said, were robbed of pot or money.

Chris Pruess, VCU's assistant police chief, noted that the 267 pounds
seized in Richmond in May was worth more than $1 million.

"When you distill it down to what's it's all about, it's money,"
Pruess said. "People will do bad things for $1.2 million worth of
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