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Archive for Saturday, May 31, 1997

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS LOCAL MURDER CONVICTION

May 31, 1997

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A Topekan is serving life in prison for killing a Lawrence man during a carjacking.

On Sept. 18, 1993, Abraham Orr shot and killed Edward Lees in a failed carjacking in a North Lawrence park. Orr was convicted of first-degree murder the following spring.

Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the conviction, laying to rest the case surrounding the seemingly random act of violence that shook Lawrence.

Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich said prosecutors were relieved the "cold-blooded murder committed in front of small children" would not have to be revisited in court.

"This has been a very lengthy process and a very difficult ordeal from the beginning," Tonkovich said. "One of the victims had to testify against three different perpetrators. The last thing we wanted to see happen was to start the process all over again."

Orr's attorneys argued Orr was insane at the time of the shooting, and his trial attorney, Randy McGrath, was ineffective because he did not pursue an insanity defense.

But the state's high court unanimously rejected that argument, citing the testimony of a psychiatrist who said Orr suffered from an antisocial personality disorder and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder but was legally sane at the time of the shooting.

Friday, McGrath asserted he did pursue an insanity defense, but it had one major hitch.

"Our problem was we didn't have an expert who would say he was legally insane," McGrath said. "He really was not insane at the time. At least the facts and the evaluation we had indicated he was not close to being insane legally."

Two psychiatrists, one hired by McGrath and one from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, evaluated Orr.

On the day of the shooting, Orr and three friends -- James Wadley, Courtney Crockett and Adrian Perkins -- traveled in Wadley's car to Kansas City from Topeka. Orr was a month shy of his 18th birthday.

On their return trip, the car broke down on the Kansas Turnpike near the East Lawrence toll exit, and they got out and started walking.

At the entrance to Riverfront Park, the four encountered an Isuzu Trooper with its engine running. Inside was Lees, girlfriend Dana Chang and Chang's 2-year-old son and 15-month-old daughter, all of Lawrence. Lees had taken Chang and her children to the park to watch the sunset.

Orr and Crockett, armed with a .357-caliber revolver and a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, ordered Lees to hand over the keys. When Lees refused to get out of the car, Orr fired through the window and hit Lees in the head. Chang grabbed her son and fled, then returned to get her daughter.

Police arrested the attackers a few blocks away at a pay telephone near a toll collector's booth. Each confessed his involvement.

In April 1994, District Judge James Paddock sentenced Orr to life in prison.

-- The Associated Press contributed information to this story.

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