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Archive for Friday, March 11, 1994

ORR FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER

March 11, 1994

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A Douglas County jury today convicted a Topeka teen-ager who testified that he didn't know it was illegal to shoot someone and steal their car.

An 18-year-old Topeka man was found guilty as charged late this morning in the Sept. 18 carjacking death of a Lawrence man.

Jurors in the trial of Abraham M. Orr returned their verdict at 11:45 a.m. today, finding Orr guilty of felony murder and attempted aggravated robbery.

The jury deliberated about one hour and 15 minutes before finding Orr guilty in the shooting death of Edward Lees, 29, Lawrence.

Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jerry Wells said he believed the guilty verdict was returned in record time for a murder case.

Orr, dressed in a maroon and black athletic pullover and maroon pants, sat back in his chair and tapped his right foot as the verdicts were read. His face conveyed no sign of emotion.

Sentencing is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 25.

Pam Thorp, the presiding juror, said Orr's admission during his testimony was a key factor in the jury's decision.

"The fact that he admitted he did it -- that was influential," Thorp said.

During Thursday's testimony, Orr said he thought he was "doing the right thing" when he accidentally shot and killed Lees while trying to steal a 1992 Isuzu Trooper that Lees had driven to the entrance of Riverfront Park.

Orr testified that he needed the vehicle so he and three companions could return to Topeka. The car the group had taken to Kansas City earlier that day had broken down on the Kansas Turnpike near Lawrence.

He said he shot at the Trooper to scare Lees after having failed to persuade the victim to get out.

"I tried to make it go through ... the driver's window to go through the window in front," he said. "Apparently, I didn't."

Lees died from a single gunshot wound to the face.

Asked what he was thinking during the carjacking attempt, Orr said: "I wanted to get home. I thought I was doing the right thing -- getting everybody a ride home."

Orr said he didn't realize that what he'd done was against the law until hours later during an interview with police.

After Orr left the stand, a former psychiatrist for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center testified that he evaluated the defendant in November and concluded that Orr was not legally insane.

To find Orr not guilty by reason of insanity, jurors would have had to rule that because of a mental illness or defect, Orr was unable to understand the nature of his actions or did not know his actions were prohibited by law. Thorp said jurors believed the psychiatrist's testimony outweighed Orr's on the insanity issue.

Randy McGrath, Orr's attorney, told jurors his client's testimony proved he was insane when the crimes occurred.

"I thought I did the right thing?" he said. "Is this what a sane man thinks?"

McGrath said the psychiatrist who examined Orr was a "rookie" who had only performed one or two insanity evaluations before Orr's.

Wells and Shelley White, assistant district attorney, countered that Orr threw away the gun, changed clothes and lied to detectives -- all signs that Orr knew he had broken the law.

Wells urged the jury to send a message to Orr through guilty verdicts: "You're not insane -- you're just brutal. And you're a killer."

Thursday afternoon, Orr's wife invoked her Fifth Amendment right to protection against self-incrimination after being called to testify on her husband's behalf.

Sarah Orr and her husband both were charged in a Feb. 27 jailbreak attempt and are awaiting preliminary hearings.

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