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Archive for Friday, May 29, 1998

THREE SUSPECTS IN ROBBERY FACE FELONY MURDER CHARGES

May 29, 1998

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The person who shot and killed Jimmy Lee Johnson Jr. has not been arrested, but three men who allegedly planned a burglary with Johnson have been charged with his murder.

Three men remain in Douglas County Jail, charged with murder in the death of Jimmy Lee Johnson Jr. during a botched robbery, while the actual shooter -- so far unnamed -- is free.

Prosecutors are basing the murder charges on statutes that allow co-conspirators to be held responsible in the death of someone killed while committing a felony.

Lawrence residents James L. Hall, 32, Maurice T. Murphy, 18, and Dustin L. Welch, 18, were charged Thursday with murder in Johnson's death.

Murphy and Welch were with Johnson when they allegedly committed an armed burglary early Wednesday at a north-central Lawrence house. During the robbery, one of the five people staying in the house shot and killed Johnson.

Hall wasn't with the three but allegedly helped plan the crime.

``I have filed charges based on information brought to this office,'' Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich said. ``Should additional information be brought, we can reassess the possibility of additional charges at that time.''

Lawrence police Sgt. George Wheeler said the investigation into the shooting continues, and that other charges have not been ruled out.

Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild set bond for Hall, Murphy and Welch at $195,000 apiece.

Court records detail crime

According to court documents and interviews with police, after 5 a.m. Wednesday, Johnson, Welch and Murphy entered the house at 1637 Kenwood, robbed one man at gunpoint and held two others by force before Johnson was shot ``multiple times'' with a handgun by one of the five people staying in the house.

Welch and Murphy stole an undisclosed amount of money from Trampas William Hutchinson, according to the probable cause complaint filed with the court.

The probable cause complaint lists Hutchinson, James Read, Joseph Vervynck, Nicole McManness and Jillian Prather as being in the house at the time of the holdup by Johnson, Murphy and Welch.

Prather, contacted by telephone Thursday, said that no one was awake when the men entered the house through the front door, which was probably unlocked.

The occupants of the house had met the suspects before.

``They knew them by their face, but not as friends,'' Prather said. ``As far as I know, none of them were friends.''

Prather declined to talk further about the incident, and the others in the house were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Criminal backgrounds vary

Welch and Murphy were charged Thursday with felony murder, aggravated robbery, two counts of kidnapping, aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.

Hall has been charged with felony murder, aiding and abetting aggravated robbery, two counts of aiding and abetting kidnapping, aiding and abetting aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.

John Ambrosio, a Topeka attorney hired by Murphy, objected to the $195,000 bond, and asked for a $50,000 bond for Murphy, who has no prior arrests.

Ambrosio said he has heard rumors that the shooting and break-in were gang-related, but said Murphy has not been in trouble before. Police have said that gang relations were not the underlying cause for the incident.

Fairchild denied Ambrosio's request to allow Murphy to be put under house arrest.

Hall was arrested in 1993 for an open-container violation.

Welch recently was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and possession of drug paraphernalia for a March 29 incident, according to court records. A first appearance in that case was scheduled for July 8. He is also facing open-container and driving without a license charges; he was free on $225 bond when the robbery and shooting occurred.

A preliminary hearing for the three was scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, but court officials indicated it will probably be postponed.

That's because Ambrosio will be representing a homicide defendant in Salina next week. Fairchild said attorneys will schedule another hearing date through a telephone conference call.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is koger@ljworld.com.

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