For about a week, a man and a teen staked out the Gilbert home of Shane Mullins, who they believed was a cannabis dealer.
On Monday night, police say, they surprised Mullins in his backyard. As a startled neighbor watched from a window, the pair beat the 27-year-old victim and dragged him inside the home.
Police arrived too late to stop the crime: They found Mullins bound, gagged, and lifeless.
Torre Sanders, 20, and Jordan Hosey, 17, were caught inside the house and booked into jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and burglary.
The teen confessed to the crime after being caught, according to a booking sheet by Gilbert police.
Hosey told cops that he and Sanders learned that Mullins was "dealing drugs" and that they watched him while planning to assault him and steal his money and goods. On Monday evening, they drove up to the home on North Cottonwood Court and sneaked into the backyard.
Mullins had a heavy-duty security door at the front of his home. Apparently, from their surveillance they knew he'd come out to the backyard to smoke a cigarette at some point. When Mullins finally emerged for his smoke, Hosey and Sanders attacked him.
From an upstairs patio window, the neighbor had seen the pair enter the backyard dressed in hoodies and carrying flashlights. She saw the men force open Mullins' back door and take him inside "while continually assaulting the victim," records state.
She called police, who were dispatched to the home just before 9 p.m. She kept watching and could see the kidnapping and beating go on through one of Mullins' windows.
Hosey and Sanders tied up Mullins with extension cords and shoved a bandanna in his mouth "to muffle his screams," Hosey told police.
About that time, a friend of Mullins arrived at the front door of the home. Hosey later told police that he thought Mullins was still making too much noise, so he sat on the victim's back and covered the man's mouth.
That's when officers showed up. They saw a black man walking from the home, "profusely sweating and nervous," and confronted him. He said he'd showed up to his friend's home and heard the sounds of a struggle and muffled screaming, so he decided to take off.
Police don't think the friend had anything to do with the crime, Gilbert police spokesman Sergeant Darrell Krueger told Phoenix New Times.
One Gilbert officer went to the neighbor's backyard and saw one of the suspects in Mullins' home trying to cover a window with cardboard. After talking to the neighbor, officers entered the home through the back door.
They found Mullins with his hands and feet bound; he had no pulse. Lifesaving efforts failed. More cops searched the home, smelling "a strong odor of un-burnt marijuana."
Police found Hosey and Sanders, along with two bags the suspects had filled with items, inside the attic. Sanders, who lives in Scottsdale, had a knife and gloves in his pockets. The teen suspect lives in Phoenix with his mother. Both men are being held in Maricopa County jail on a $1 million bond.
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Krueger said he didn't know how much marijuana was in the home, or whether Mullins actually sold it. Court records show that an unidentified police agency served a search warrant on Mullins in 2010 at a different Gilbert address, but he was never charged with a crime.
Asked why police didn't enter Mullins' home immediately, Krueger explained that police need "demonstrable exigency in order to breach someone's property. It's someone's castle. We have to have pretty strong evidence."
Sanders had a warrant out for failure to appear in court. Records show he was busted for a marijuana violation in January along with a woman who was later convicted of promoting prison contraband.
On his Facebook page, Sanders wrote that he has attended Arizona State University and was a former personal trainer for L.A. Fitness. ASU's website doesn't list the suspect's name as a student.