A face on the victim
Family of man murdered at 7-Eleven says he has been unfairly characterized
Two young men were recently overheard at the 7-Eleven at the corner of First and Main streets. They were discussing the brutal killing that had taken place just outside that convenience store the previous weekend.
One of them was less than compassionate, summing the incident up with a shrug: “Two bums killed another bum.”
Though crudely put, that’s basically what initial reports indicated. According to police, early on Aug. 31, Stephanie Vogel, 23, and Joshua Epstein, 30, allegedly beat 44-year-old Randell Sexton with a skateboard and repeatedly stabbed him in the head and upper torso. Sexton was unresponsive when first responders arrived; he was pronounced dead on arrival at Enloe Medical Center. Both suspects and the victim were described by police as “known transients.”
Technically, Sexton did not have a home address at the time of his death, his family said. That’s because he was in the process of moving from the Santa Barbara County town of Goleta to Chico, where he was set to begin contracting work with a close friend. Sexton and his fiancée, Jenny Tighe, had immediate plans to rent a home in Chico. So calling him a “transient”—not to mention more crass terms—is a characterization his surviving family maintains is inaccurate and offensive.
“We wanted to put a human face on all of this,” said Dara Sexton, Randell Sexton’s aunt. “He had a place to go, a place to stay. He wasn’t a transient living under bridges and going from town to town.”
Dara spoke with the CN&R by phone as she, Tighe and Randell Sexton’s mother, Diane Sexton, made the drive to Chico to attend Vogel and Epstein’s court appearance on Wednesday, Sept. 10. Dara said the trio, overcome with grief, had been taking turns at the wheel.
“We want to see the people who murdered my nephew and my sister’s son,” Dara said of Sexton’s alleged killers. “We want to look in their faces.”
Sexton was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1970, and graduated from high school there, Dara said. He did fairly well in school, though he “was not an excellent student. He had his friends, but he was very artistic, too, so he enjoyed his time alone.”
He didn’t pursue higher education, inclined rather to make his living as a woodworker. Though Sexton’s spirit was adventurous and he relocated regularly—Dara described him as “a modern-day hippie, bouncing around to the next new thing”—he always found work in construction. As an adult, he was an avid cyclist and accomplished guitarist. He met his fiancée, Tighe, at a music festival in Colorado.
But Dara didn’t sugarcoat Sexton’s story, acknowledging he had “brushed with the law” on several occasions. Butte County Superior Court records indicate a man named Randell Sexton has an extensive criminal history here, most recently in 2010 for possession of a controlled substance.
Dara said that a friend of Sexton’s had recently offered him a job building a house in the area. Traveling by plane and bus, Sexton arrived in Chico the day he was slain; Tighe planned to join him soon after. According to the Chico Police Department’s Detective Bureau, Sexton’s killing that night was preceded by an argument with Vogel and Epstein.
“From what we’ve been told by witnesses, the verbal altercation that took place before the fight was minimal,” CPD Sgt. Matt Madden told the CN&R last week. “It’s a little hard to believe that a few mixed words in a parking lot could lead to such a violent crime.”
Sexton’s mother, Diane, was on vacation in Ireland when he was killed. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at her home in Barstow and spoke to her housekeeper, who then contacted Dara. It was tremendously difficult to deliver the news, Dara said.
“I can’t imagine the hell my sister’s going through,” Dara said. “It was just awful hearing what happened, the brutal way he died. It was unbelievable.”
Diane was home in Barstow within 24 hours, and has been in regular contact with local police officials since. “Chico police have been awesome, they’ve really been compassionate,” Dara said. “We appreciate the way they’ve gotten us through this, because we’re just at a loss.”
From an emotional standpoint, more hardship is to come for Sexton’s family members—they’ll soon view the surveillance video of his killing. “I need to see what happened,” Dara said. “A lot of times I can detach myself; I’m a nurse, I’ve seen some awful things. I might not be able to take it, but I need to see what happened in those minutes before his death.”
Vogel and Epstein, currently in Butte County Jail, were arraigned in Butte County Superior Court on Sept. 4. Vogel faces a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon—the skateboard—and Epstein is charged with murder, along with a special allegation that he used a knife.
As of CN&R’s deadline, neither defendant had entered a plea.