Tensions high after sentencing in York

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comAugust 8, 2013 

— Tensions spilled over into the parking lot of a York County law building Wednesday after family members learned the Rock Hill man once accused in their relative’s death would spend four years in prison.

Court constables and deputies escorted Tammy Kobbe, the wife of defendant Donald Earl Kobbe, to her car at the Moss Justice Center in York after he pleaded guilty to distribution of cocaine and distribution of cocaine within proximity to a school.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles sentenced Kobbe to four years in prison followed by three years of probation, which will include substance abuse counseling and paying more than $6,000 restitution to the family of Talbert Pickett, 28, who was stabbed to death last December.

Police arrested Kobbe, 40, and charged him with murder, armed robbery, criminal conspiracy and distribution of crack cocaine.

Murder charges against Kobbe were dismissed when police and prosecutors determined that he did not actually take part in stabbing Pickett as he waited in a car.

On Monday, Kobbe’s co-defendant, Christopher Ray Morris, 32, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years behind bars.

Pickett family members said they thought Morris’ sentence was too lenient and they were upset that “justice was not served.”

On Wednesday, they said the same minutes before court bailiffs surrounded them in the Moss Justice Center parking lot and advised them to leave.

Before Pickett’s Dec. 8 death, Kobbe told prosecutors that he and Morris had been playing pool and drinking beer until Kobbe called his “regular” drug dealer, known as “Q,” to purchase $100 worth of crack cocaine, said Willy Thompson, deputy 16th Circuit Court solicitor.

“Q” sent a friend, Pickett, to Kobbe’s Ellen Avenue home in Rock Hill, Thompson said. When Pickett arrived in a burgundy Crown Victoria that Thompson called a “community car” used by various people, Morris got into the car’s passenger seat.

He said he left his money in another pair of pants and asked Pickett to drive him to his house, just up the street from Kobbe’s home. Pickett complied, Thompson said.

Had the case gone to trial, Thompson said Kobbe would have testified against Morris, claiming he did not see the stabbing, but later saw Pickett slumped over in the car.

Kobbe’s attorney, Lancaster lawyer David Cook, said Kobbe also saw Morris rifling through Pickett’s pockets. He added that Kobbe did not plan to use the crack cocaine himself, but called “Q” to give the drugs to Morris.

After the stabbing, Morris ran into Kobbe’s house, carrying a bloody knife, apron and drugs wrapped in cellophane.

Pickett had been stabbed more than 30 times in the chest, neck and face. The wounds were “immediately fatal,” Thompson said.

Kobbe said Morris implied that he “did this for” Kobbe because he owed “Q” money. Police and prosecutors later learned that Kobbe did not owe “Q” money and had always been able to pay for his drugs, Thompson said.

Morris told police and prosecutors that Pickett first attacked him with a knife when he became “agitated” that he had to drive Morris to his house before getting the cash, Thompson said. He showed police marks on his body that they determined resembled scratches from a cat rather than stab wounds.

Kobbe called “Q,” other friends and police. Those friends rushed Pickett to the hospital while police were en route to Ellen Avenue. Police found Kobbe standing in the middle of the street yelling loudly, according to a Rock Hill Police report.

Questioned by police, both Kobbe and Morris cast blame on each other.

“Those boys attacked Talbert in that car,” said Pickett’s sister, Katara Pickett Hicks. “These men got away with murder.”

Hicks and a dozen family members and friends gathered in the justice center parking lot after Wednesday’s hearing upset by the outcome. They discussed plans to reach out to Oprah Winfrey, and talk about the case on YouTube and WorldstarHipHop, an online urban entertainment video blog.

Pickett’s mother, Debra Pickett, said “Justice was not served. We still don’t have answers to what happened.”

Family members insist that Pickett was not a drug dealer. He had just lost his job at T.J. Maxx in Charlotte. He turned to the streets.

In court, family members said Kobbe tearfully apologized. They didn’t accept it.

After the hearing, court bailiffs and a deputy responded in the parking lot after an argument erupted, said Trent Faris, York County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Cook, Kobbe’s lawyer, said one of Pickett’s supporters said something threatening against a man they assumed was with Tammy Kobbe. She asked to be escorted to her car, Cook said.

It’s unclear what was said to spark the dispute.

Tammy Kobbe was the only member of Kobbe’s family to attend the plea hearing, Cook said. Several others were in New York, tending to his ill mother.

She said in court Kobbe was the sole provider for the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. Efforts to reach her Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.

“He simply set up a drug deal for his friend,” Cook said.

When police investigated Pickett’s death, they faced a “difficult” crime scene, Thompson said. The crime scene – the “community car” – was gone when Pickett’s friends took him to the hospital.

When police checked the car, DNA had been contaminated because friends moved Pickett from the car’s driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat so they could drive to the hospital. They got blood on their hands, Thompson said, and then on the steering wheel, door handles, keys and shifting knob, covering any other possible traces of DNA that linked to Morris.

Because Kobbe and Morris both accused each other, prosecutors would be unable to call them on the stand as witnesses. They could not use their statements under a federal Supreme Court rule that prohibits statements from co-defendants casting blame on each other from being introduced in a trial.

Difficult evidence and the likelihood that a jury would be unsympathetic in a drug case moved prosecutors to strike a plea deal with the defense so Morris would at least serve some time in prison, Thompson said.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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