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2 marijuana dispensary workers killed hours apart; LAPD probes possible links [Updated]

June 25, 2010 |  6:41 am

Los Angeles Police Department detectives Friday morning were trying to determine whether there was any connection between two robberies hours apart Thursday at two medical marijuana dispensaries that left two employees dead.

The first robbery occurred at 4:15 p.m. on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. The second at 9:15 p.m. a few miles away on El Centro Avenue in Hollywood. The killings come as Los Angeles authorities are in the process of cracking down on pot businesses, resulting in the closure of dozens of the outlets.

LAPD sources told The Times that detectives were looking at all possibilities, but stressed they were not sure if the two crimes were linked. The victims at both locations were shot, they said, but a knife might have also been used in one of them.

At the marijuana dispensary in Echo Park, one worker was killed and another was wounded. Officials said the store was ransacked. 

[Updated at 6:56 a.m.: The worker killed in the Echo Park shooting was identified Friday by the L.A. County coroner's office as Matthew Benjamin Butcher, 27, of Los Angeles.]

An unknown number of suspects stormed into the Higher Patch Holistic Care store at 1302 Sunset Blvd. In Hollywood, the employee was discovered dead in that store when someone entered the establishment. The shootings are sure to increase debate about medical marijuana businesses around L.A.

Critics say there are far too many and claim the businesses generate crime.

[Updated at 12:10 p.m.: Matt Butcher was the son of Julie Butcher, a well-known L.A. labor leader. Butcher’s mother described the killing as “totally senseless,” saying her son was simply trying to cobble together part-time jobs in a tough economy. “He was one of the most peaceful people,” said Julie Butcher, who works as a regional director of the Service Employees International Union Local 721. “He would have given them anything they wanted. There’s no reason for anyone to die over marijuana.”]

-- Andrew Blankstein, David Zahniser and Robert J. Lopez