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Archive for Thursday, December 5, 1996

DRIVER SAYS MCCRAY CONFESSED TO SHOOTING

December 5, 1996

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The driver of the alleged getaway vehicle in a Lawrence murder testified Wednesday that Damon McCray talked about shooting Onzie Branch immediately after the incident.

A gun that no one has found and a man that no one had seen after the murder of Onzie Branch were key components of testimony Wednesday in a Douglas County murder trial.

Damon Hall, the man who drove a rented car away from the 800 block of West 24th after Branch was shot, told jurors that he heard several minutes of arguing followed by several gunshots. Hall said Damon McCray, 23, Topeka, jumped into the car, confessed, and said to head for Kansas City.

Hall and Lawrence police detectives testified that McCray was in that area in the early morning hours of Aug. 15. Prosecutors alleged that McCray shot Branch, 24, Topeka, as he sat in a parked car outside a Lawrence nightclub, and that the motive was revenge.

"He said he shot four times into the (passenger side of the) car and hit Onzie," Hall said in a subdued tone.

McCray, Hall and Branch are former Topeka High School classmates.

Hall said that as he, McCray and two others left Lawrence east on Interstate 70, McCray said he would "take care of the gun." At one point, Hall had to stop the car to vomit by the side of the highway. The gun used to kill Branch still has not been found.

The next day Hall drove to Texas.

Defense attorney Wendell Betts challenged Hall's testimony. Betts asked Hall whether he saw a gun throughout the night and morning, after seeing it the previous afternoon on the dining room table of McCray's Topeka home.

Hall testified that, when McCray ran back to the car, a bulge under his shirt appeared to be a gun.

"You never saw a gun that night again?" Betts asked.

"No," Hall told the six-man, six-woman jury.

Betts asked Hall about his departure for Texas the morning after the murder. Hall left without telling anyone where he was going.

Betts also inquired of a robbery in 1993 in Topeka, the perpetrators of which took money, jewelry and marijuana from Hall and a friend. One of the robbers punched Hall in the face.

That man was believed by Hall to have been Branch's cousin, who was in the back seat when Branch was shot. Hall denied that he knew that man was in the car, or that he would even recognize him.

Det. M.T. Brown, who questioned McCray after his arrest, said McCray indicated several times that he was not at the scene of the murder. McCray said he was with his girlfriend, a statement later refuted by others, including Hall.

Attorneys' closing arguments could begin as early as this morning, the fourth day of the trial.

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