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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Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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