Derrick Peete, a 23-year-old Detroit man who has come to symbolize the recent drug connection between Warren and the ''Motor City,'' pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of murder. His plea heads off a trial that was due to start Monday.
Courthouse security was increased as it had been during pre-trial proceedings for Peete and a co-defendant, who were indicted in the November 2012 murder of 32-year-old Marco Dukes of Warren.
Peete faced the possibility of life in prison without the chance of parole or could have been sentenced to life with the chance of parole after 30, 25 or 20 years if convicted at trial.
Instead, Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison after guilty pleas to amended charges that included murder, which was reduced from aggravated murder. Prosecutors also dismissed several firearms specifications that could have meant an additional three years behind bars.
He also was found guilty of tampering with evidence, improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation, attempted murder, felonious assault and having weapons under disability.
Peete and Dale Hatch, 27, of Detroit, were both charged in the Dukes' murder during what police said was a major gun battle in downtown Warren.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Defendant Derrick Peete, right, goes over his plea agreement with defense attorney Heidi Hanni Thursday before pleading guilty to killing a Warren man and other charges.
Two of the charges, felonious assault and attempted aggravated murder that both men were indicted on, are related to the shooting of Dukes' cousin, Larry A. Smith, 29, who was wounded in the gunfire.
Shira Dukes, sister of the victim, called Peete a ''coward'' who took ''the life of a father, brother, son and a friend.''
Said Kisha Elzy, the mother of two of Dukes' sons, who delivered an impact statement in the courtroom, ''You hurt my kids. They don't have a dad. He was killed after throwing a birthday party for one of his sons.''
Hatch, meanwhile, pleaded guilty last month to an amended indictment charging him with involuntary manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Hatch, according to prosecutors, was carrying a stolen 9 mm pistol that jammed after he got one shot off. Peete is accused of using an assault rifle that caused most of the damage, killing Dukes, injuring Smith and penetrating the house on Elm Road N.E. that has since been demolished.
Warren police and prosecutors are unable to prove with ballistics evidence whether the one shot that Hatch fired hit Dukes or Smith.
Even Thursday, Warren detectives were unsure of just how many shots were fired from what the investigators said were at least four weapons. Hatch and Dukes each had 9 mm; Peete had the assault rifle; and another uncharged and unidentified gunman had a .45 caliber weapon.
Police were reporting immediately after Dukes was killed that the shootout behind a small apartment house on Elm Road was connected to the drug trade.
Even since his arrest in connection with the murder, Peete has turned up as a defendant in two other drug cases, including the massive local drug sweep a year ago that was dubbed ''Little D-Town'' because of the connection to Detroit.
Peete, who was among more than 50 charged into federal court and more than 40 others picked up by 200 local state and federal drug agents, was sentenced to 17 months in prison in January by another local judge who ordered that the time run concurrent with a 46-month sentence in federal court, where Peete was named in a 21-count indictment for heroin possession. The murder conviction runs concurrent with the sentences in the drug convictions.
Peete also was ordered to forfeit more than $10,000 found on him during the traffic stop in Warren where drugs were found on him.