"But for the facts of this case, he doesn't belong in prison," says public defender.
A Whatcom County man must serve 11 ½ years in prison for shooting two men in a failed drug rip-off in Everson, a Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
Tita Keanu Preston Paul, 22, made a deal to buy cocaine and Xanax pills from a man on the night of Nov. 5, 2016, according to charging papers. A friend of the alleged dealer, 20, picked up Paul on Suchanon Drive in a white Toyota Highlander, while the alleged dealer, Jaxon Jonal Mancillas, 18, sat in the back seat with Paul.
They drove a mile north to Everson, as Mancillas gave Paul a sample of the cocaine, the charges say. He agreed to buy it. According to Mancillas’ original account, Paul put the drugs in his backpack and reached inside the pack like he was getting his money, but instead he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at Mancillas’ face. (Mancillas had brought a pistol, too, but he wasn’t upfront about that fact with a detective at first, according to amended charging papers).
At some point, Paul pistol-whipped Mancillas in the face. The driver stopped the car. The men fought, and Paul fired at least seven rounds, hitting Mancillas in the buttocks, the driver in the upper shoulder and thigh, and a nearby home. The angle of their wounds suggested they were shot while running away, the charges state. The drugs were found in a backpack. Police later figured out the backpack belonged Mancillas. He said he moved the drugs back to his pack when Paul fled.
Both men survived.
Down the street a Nooksack Tribal Police officer found Paul walking toward him, with blood on his face and shirt, not dressed for the rain. The officer ordered Paul to get on the ground, and found a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol in his pants.
He was arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree attempted murder and two counts of first-degree robbery.
A Whatcom County sheriff’s detective interviewed the wounded men at St. Joseph hospital.
This week Prosecutor Dave McEachran noted in court Mancillas was “not candid” in his interview with police. His friend refused to talk with police at all, at first. The prosecutor charged Mancillas in December with possession of cocaine and Xanax with intent to deliver. He’s still awaiting trial.
Paul, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, has been behind bars since his arrest. He had no criminal record. He was “basically born on the streets of Vancouver, B.C.,” and might have fetal alcohol syndrome, said his public defender, Starck Follis.
Paul has an IQ of about 65, and a forensic psychologist for the defense found he’s highly susceptible to being manipulated by others. Follis told Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett that Paul had been manipulated into the crime by a person who went unnamed in the courtroom.
“Tita should have, in a perfect world, been in a position to stand up and say no, and not involve himself in this,” Follis said. “But I think given his background, given his IQ, given his susceptibility to influence of others – (it) really, really made him vulnerable to this individual.”
Paul pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery while armed with a firearm and two counts of second-degree assault. He declined to speak in court at his sentencing hearing Thursday.
A cousin, Teresa Williams Rios, told the judge Paul was a sweet child growing up, though he lacked stability at home. Then his mother got sick and died; he ran low on money; and fell into a bad crowd when he moved to Whatcom County.
“It was pretty sad to see him go from that child, that teenager, and then into that lifestyle,” Paul’s cousin told the judge. “We asked him not to go there, but like any other teenager, they just follow the crowd.”
Garrett ordered Paul to serve 11 ½ years in prison, as suggested by the plea deal. She advised him to try to leave prison as a better person than when he went in.
“You don’t have to go to a life of crime,” the judge said. “But you have to stick to your family, and you have to think for yourself – that’s the most important thing. You have to think for yourself.”