Two La Quinta men were convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder for the shooting death of a 20-year-old man nearly five years ago during a botched drug deal.
Jurors deliberated about six hours before finding Jesse Keith Cottom, 21, and Kenneth Michael Wilson, 25, guilty of the murder of Ryan Sniffin of Joshua Tree in the Cove neighborhood of La Quinta.
The defendants were also convicted of attempted robbery, and the jury found true multiple sentence-enhancing allegations, including discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury.
They’re facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing scheduled for Feb. 11. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office previously opted not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Cottom was 17 years old when he shot Sniffin, who was trying to buy an ounce of cocaine from him, and Wilson provided his co-defendant with the gun and was present when the shooting occurred, according to Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse.
She told jurors in her opening statement that Cottom and Wilson showed up for the drug transaction with a “carefully crafted plan” and “with a clear motive: money.”
According to the prosecution, Sniffin sought help from a family member to arrange the purchase of an ounce of cocaine. Dylan Sniffin gave his cousin a phone number for Cottom, whom Dylan Sniffin had met while spending time in juvenile hall, prosecutors said.
Lofthouse said Cottom, Wilson and another man, Miguel Ramirez, devised a scheme to fill two sandwich bags with baking soda in an attempt to pass the substance off as cocaine.
About 6:30 p.m. on the night of shooting, Sniffin, his cousin and another man drove to the 51800 block of Avenida Ramirez to meet Cottom, Lofthouse said, and a short time later, Cottom, Wilson and Ramirez rode up to the area on bicycles.
Dylan Sniffin testified that Cottom approached and handed his cousin two bags containing an unspecified amount of what he claimed was cocaine, but Ryan Sniffin handed the bags back, saying he wanted “better stuff.”
Dylan Sniffin said Cottom rode away, but quickly returned on foot and tried to rob his cousin, with Cottom pointing a gun at the victim’s head. He said a shot rang out moments later, striking his cousin in the neck.
Cottom ran from the scene without any cash, according to the prosecution.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene about 6:40 p.m. and found Sniffin on the ground with a single gunshot wound. He died about 11 that night at Desert Regional Medical Center.
The murder weapon, a .38-caliber revolver, was never found.
Cottom’s attorney, Greg Johnson, said during his opening statement that the prosecution would call drug users and convicted criminals to testify against his client, including people who got reduced sentences in other cases.
Johnson questioned Dylan Sniffin about whether he was under the influence of any drugs or medications while testifying.
“No, sir,” Dylan Sniffin responded.
Wilson’s attorney, John Patrick Dolan, claimed that his client was not present when Ryan Sniffin was shot.
Dylan Sniffin testified that he only saw Cottom prior to and during the shooting, but he said he saw Wilson and another man drive by in a red car, gawking at the scene, after authorities had arrived.
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.
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