Opening statements are scheduled Thursday in the trial of two men charged with killing another man during a botched drug deal in La Quinta.
Jesse Keith Cottom, 21, and Kenneth Michael Wilson, 25, are both charged with murder and attempted robbery, along with a sentence-enhancing allegation of discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury.
The murder charge includes a special circumstance allegation of committing a murder during the commission of a robbery, but the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office previously opted not to seek the death penalty in the case. The defendants face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The duo are accused in the Jan. 30, 2015, killing of Ryan Sniffin, 20, of Joshua Tree. Prosecutors allege Cottom — who was 17 at the time — was the one who fired the fatal shot. Prosecutors allege Cottom and Wilson concocted a scheme to sell fake cocaine to the victim, and that Wilson supplied Cottom with the gun used in the killing.
Sheriff’s deputies responded about 6:40 p.m. to the scene of the shooting in the 51800 block of Avenida Ramirez and found Sniffin on the ground with a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to a trial brief filed by the District Attorney’s Office. Sniffin died at about 11:05 p.m. that night at Desert Regional Medical Center, according to the Riverside County Coroner’s Bureau.
According to prosecutors, Sniffin sought help from his cousin, Dylan Sniffin, to arrange the purchase of several hundred dollars worth of cocaine, and Dylan provided him with Cottom’s phone number.
At about 6:30 p.m. on the night of shooting, Sniffin, Dylan and another man drove to the Avenida Ramirez location to meet Cottom. A short time later, Cottom, Wilson and another unidentified person rode up to the car on bicycles, prosecutors contend.
Cottom then handed Sniffin a bag containing an unspecified amount of what he claimed was cocaine, but Sniffin handed the bag back and refused to purchase the material because it was fake, prosecutors said.
The group of men on bicycles rode away, but at least one of them returned moments later and Cottom — who was allegedly armed with a .38-caliber revolver — tried to rob Sniffin of the cash he had brought for the drug transaction, prosecutors allege.
As Sniffin “fumbled to retrieve the money,” Cottom shot the victim in the neck then fled on foot without the cash, according to the prosecution’s trial brief. Cottom’s two companions also fled.
Wilson’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan, claims in a trial brief that Dylan Sniffin will testify during the trial that he only saw Cottom at the scene when the shooting occurred, and that Wilson was not present when Sniffin was shot. He accuses the prosecution in his trial brief of relying on hearsay evidence in an attempt to place Wilson at the crime scene.
“At the moment of the shooting Dylan Sniffin did not see anyone else with Jesse Cottom,” the brief reads.
A third co-defendant in the case, Wayne David Wilson — the brother of Kenneth Wilson — pleaded guilty in October to being an accessory to the killing after the fact. He is not believed to have been the third person who originally approached the victim with Cottom and Kenneth Wilson the night of the shooting.
Opening statements are set for 9 a.m. in Dept. 2F at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, 46200 Oasis St.
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