2 sentenced for killing man during botched robbery attempt at Buena Park gas station – Orange County Register


Two San Bernardino men were given lengthy prison sentences Friday, July 29, for their involvement in fatally shooting a 24-year-old check-cashing employee at a Buena Park gas station during an attempted robbery gone wrong more than five years ago.

Jeffrey Tuli, 39, was sentenced to life without parole after a jury convicted him of shooting and killing Maher Yousef of La Mirada over the Fourth of July weekend in 2016. Co-defendant Aaron Vermont Jackson, 41, was sentenced to 65 years to life.

Sentencing for a third man, Dejon Vincent Griffin, 38, of San Bernardino, was postponed to Aug. 25.

Before handing the sentences to the two men, Judge Gregg L. Prickett noted the methodical planning of the robbery. The men had sent messages to one another in the days preceding the shooting.

They walked the parking lot of the check-cashing business before one of the men slashed a tire on Yousef’s Dodge Charger. They followed him to a gas station, where Yousef pulled over to deal with the flat tire, then surrounded his car, pointing guns at him and demanding money, after a passenger exited the car and went inside to get a couple bottles of water.

Tuli, in a police interview, said he panicked and shot Yousef after the victim tried to get out of the car while being punched by Jackson.

“There’s a high degree of callousness here in that the victim was shot in the head at extremely close range,” Prickett said. “They confronted the victim alone, in a vehicle. He was vulnerable and outnumbered.”

The three men were convicted of murder in March. The one trial involved two separate juries, one for Tuli, the alleged shooter, and the other for Jackson and Griffin.

Speaking at the sentencing hearing, family members of Yousef described him as a hard-working, generous young man who had dreams of getting married and having children.

After the hearing, his older brother Basil Yousef said the family believed justice was served. He said his younger brother worked seven days a week at the check-cashing business and would always take time to extend a helping hand when needed.

While Kristina Yousef, Maher’s sister-in-law, spoke in court about the crime’s terrible impact, Yousef’s mother was overcome by emotion and began sobbing.

“My son! My son! Why did they shoot him?” she asked.

In a later outburst, she directed a question at the three men, who did not turn around. Griffin was ordered to be in court to hear the family’s statements.

“He told you he didn’t have any money, why did you shoot him?” she asked.

Kristina Yousef said Tuli called the victim a “chump” during a police interview.

Maher Yousef’s sister Noura said he was an optimistic, hopeful and joyful person who had wanted to open other businesses.

“His life was taken by thugs who wanted a quick come-up,” she said, “but he only had a cell phone to give.”

As the three men approached Yousef at the gas station, Jackson stood by the driver’s side door, with Tuli on the passenger side and Griffin at the rear rummaging through the trunk, prosecutors said.

Though he didn’t shoot, Jackson was also armed, a fact Prickett said exacerbated the situation.

“It was much worse that the victim was confronted by two people with guns as opposed to one,” Prickett said.

Attorneys representing Jackson and Griffin pointed the blame at Tuli during trial, saying the two men only intended to rob Yousef, not kill him. They argued the two men weren’t major participants in the robbery, nor did they act with reckless disregard for human life, a legal element required to find them guilty of murder.

But Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker argued that because the shooting occurred during a robbery, they bore responsibility for Yousef’s death.

Tuli denied being the shooter at trial and his attorney, Jay Moorhead, argued he was scared to tell police who actually shot Yousef after believing the other two men had already pointed the finger at him. Moorhead called Tuli a “broken man” by the time he was interviewed by police, and told jurors there was no forensic evidence tying him to the scene.

The attempted robbery and shooting were caught on video.

The three men fled with nothing after the shooting.

Buena Park police announced their arrests more than a month later after finding Tuli in Riverside, Jackson in Las Vegas and Griffin in Lakewood, Washington.



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