Here’s a formula you rarely find, even in the off-kilter world of crime:
A marijuana deal + a machete + two guns + three people shot = probation.
Yet that’s exactly how a case was resolved in Douglas County District Court this week, after victims were uncooperative and a judge took a chance on a teenage defendant who shot and wounded another teen.
Douglas County District Judge Timothy Burns sentenced Jamil Phillips, of Bellevue, to five years of probation for a failed marijuana deal in which Phillips and his co-defendants decided they didn’t want to pay for the pot. Phillips and another teen pulled out guns — and a near-deadly skirmish ensued.
“Mr. Phillips, I was not there that night,” Burns said. “But I know one thing: You shouldn’t have been there, either. … And if I thought you were there with a plan to shoot people, I would not be considering you for probation.”
Indeed, it doesn’t seem there was much of a plan in the early morning of June 20. Just after midnight, Phillips, then 17, Julio Roman, 18, and Roman’s cousin, Richard Orris, 25, traveled to meet Matthew Brenden, 18, and his girlfriend, Za’kari Glasgow, 17, to buy a small amount of marijuana, prosecutors say.
The parties met outside the closed-for-the-night Kroc Center, a Salvation Army facility near 28th and Y Streets that aims, among other things, to keep teens off the streets.
According to prosecutors:
Roman and Phillips were buying marijuana from Brenden and tried to stiff him.
Brenden told detectives that it was the other way around — that he went to buy marijuana from Roman and Phillips. He gave them the money — and they refused to give him the pot.
Either way, Brenden pulled out a machete and confronted them.
An altercation ensued — and Roman and Phillips pulled out guns.
In the course of the skirmish, Phillips shot Glasgow in the shoulder and accidentally shot himself in the hand.
Detectives allege that Roman shot Brenden twice in the torso.
Remarkably, both Brenden and Glasgow survived.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine noted that his office has handled several cases where “little marijuana deals” like this one turned into deadly robberies. Tyon Wells is awaiting sentencing for the February shooting death of Zachary Parker, 17. Wells was 14 when he killed Parker during a marijuana deal/robbery.
Three more teens were charged in the May 2017 slaying of Brandon White — a 21-year-old they were trying to rob during a marijuana deal outside McMillan Magnet Center.
“Many times, we end up with people who have died, and it started out as a little marijuana deal,” Kleine said. “The people who are involved in this case are very fortunate that somebody didn’t end up dead.”
Both gunmen had another stroke of fortune once the case reached court. After initially talking to police, prosecutors say, Brenden has declined to cooperate. At one point, he cut off police, telling them, “I’m not a snitch.”
That left prosecutors with little to go on — other than evidence that Phillips went to a Council Bluffs hospital to get treated for the self-inflicted shot to the hand.
In turn, Roman is under consideration for transfer to Young Adult Court — a diversion court that allows teens to avoid a record if they successfully complete the program.
And prosecutors reduced a first-degree assault charge against Phillips to second-degree assault — a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison or five years of probation.
His attorney, Timothy Ashford, said Phillips, now 18, isn’t a gang member — unlike one teen in the case who claimed Lomas membership.
He said Phillips is a soft-spoken kid whose only other brush with trouble occurred when he was kicked out of Bellevue West High School for a fight. He transferred to Bellevue East and graduated in May 2018, Ashford said.
Ashford noted that Phillips could have claimed self-defense and fought the charge.
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“This thing went downhill very quickly,” Ashford said. “My client saw (Brenden) with a machete, and he felt that he was acting in self-defense.”
Burns said he wasn’t sure exactly how things unraveled that night. However, the judge noted that Phillips’ parents had attended every hearing — and that Phillips had no criminal record.
“This could have turned out even worse,” Burns said. “Someone could have been killed — and we wouldn’t be talking probation. We’d be talking about how many years you’d be spending in prison.”
Burns warned Phillips that he faces the original sentence — up to 20 years in prison — if he violates any terms of the probation over the next five years.
“Mr. Phillips, don’t let me down,” Burns said. “More importantly, don’t let yourself down.”
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JUNE 6: Numerous changes have been made at the Omaha Police Department in the year since the in-custody death of Zachary Bearheels, who was shocked with a Taser a dozen times. Bearheels, a Native American, was bipolar and schizophrenic. READ MORE.
JUNE 5: The scene in downtown Omaha on Saturday night could have come straight out of a gangster movie. Rival gangs came upon each other on the Farnam Street sidewalk along Gene Leahy Mall, and someone from each gang started to fire. Jasmine Harris, 20, was fatally shot, seven others were injured and vehicles along Farnam Street were sprayed with bullets. READ MORE.
JUNE 19: A west Omaha man who sent prostitutes to strip on his neighbor’s porch was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for possessing child pornography. READ MORE.
APRIL 20: Kayviaun Nelson was shot at the Irvington Walmart Supercenter at 6304 N. 99th St. She had been involved in a dispute elsewhere in Omaha and “it came to a head” in the Walmart lot. Two have been arrested in connection with her death. READ MORE.
MAY 22: The Omaha man — 19 when he committed his crimes — had just told a judge that his life hit a turning point after he had sat in jail for the past seven months, thinking about his crime of helping another teen use an online dating service to lure seven men to be robbed. Then Judge Mark Ashford pronounced his sentence: 24 to 40 years in prison. READ MORE.
JUNE 22: A half-dozen people were involved in the half-baked scheme to bribe a juror who would help decide the fate of a double-murder defendant, Douglas County prosecutors say. READ MORE.
MAY 1: In a cold case that lasted 10 years from crime to conviction, it took just 10 minutes for Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka to sentence Charles Simmer, 34, to a life term for the Nov. 3, 2007, slaying of his aunt. READ MORE.
APRIL 26: Jacob Ford contended that he dropped his baby daughter and she hit her head on a crib railing and the floor. But prosecutors argued — and a judge agreed — that shaking and slamming were the causes of the massive brain damage that 7-week-old Skyler suffered. READ MORE.
APRIL 20: Judge Shelly Stratman estimated, conservatively, that the then-9-year-old boy was sexually assaulted about 52 times by a man he considered a father figure. It would have been easier to stay silent. But he spoke up. “He’s a very brave young man,” said Stratman. READ MORE.
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APRIL 9: A woman accused of driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a girl and injured the girl’s mother pleaded guilty to motor vehicle homicide and drunken driving/causing serious bodily injury. READ MORE.
JUNE 21: In one swipe, Christopher Wheeler forever changed Teresa Spagna’s life — leaving a “big scar” across her throat, and her psyche. Judge Shelly Stratman sentenced Wheeler to 30 days in jail, followed by five years of probation. Wheeler, who had no record, had faced up to 20 years in prison. READ MORE.
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FEB. 9: The now-17-year-old victim gave an ultimatum to Judge Duane Dougherty: Impose a sentence of 52 years. “If you give him anything less than (that), you are basically saying that you don’t care if it happens again,” the girl said. “You’re putting another person at risk of having to go through what I’ve gone through. And nobody should have to go through what I’ve gone through.” READ MORE.
MARCH 10: Three girls who looked to Lee Dunbar as a father were, instead, sexually assaulted by him. A jury decided as much in January. On Friday, Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk sentenced Dunbar, a 67-year-old retired Omaha fire captain, to the minimum sentence of 15 years on each of the five first-degree sexual assault counts he had been convicted of. READ MORE.
JAN. 23: A gang member prosecutors describe as a “menace” was sentenced to life in prison for firing 10 shots at a rival gang member in the middle of the day — and instead killing Barbara Williams, 55, a grandma who had been chatting on a stoop. READ MORE.
JAN. 18: A man accused of fatally shooting an Army sergeant outside a bar stole his necklaces and later admitted to the shooting, a prosecutor said. Kyle LeFlore, 27, was shot in the chest at close range and died soon after being rushed to the hospital early Jan. 6. READ MORE.