Lawrence man ordered to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charge in apparent accidental shooting

‘Turn yourself in, do what’s right,’ witness told defendant after woman’s death

At left is Lei-Ala A. Turner, who was fatally shot shortly after 11 p.m. on Dec. 27 at 2310 W. 26th St., the August Place Apartments in south Lawrence, shown at right.

A judge has ordered a Lawrence man to stand trial on an involuntary manslaughter charge, after hearing a witness describe the apparently accidental shooting and the defendant’s reluctance to turn himself in afterward.

Douglas County District Court Judge Peggy Kittel presided over a preliminary hearing Wednesday for Willie K. Franklin, 27.

The judge found probable cause for the previously filed felony charges against Franklin: one count of involuntary manslaughter, for allegedly recklessly killing Lei-Ala Turner, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, less than 10 years after a conviction for cocaine possession.

Turner, 30, of Lawrence, was fatally shot shortly after 11 p.m. Dec. 27 at 2310 W. 26th St., her sister’s home at the August Place Apartments in south Lawrence.

Franklin, Turner and the handful of other people in the apartment that night were all longtime friends or related by blood.

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Willie K. Franklin

A cousin of Turner’s and friend of Franklin’s testified during Wednesday’s hearing that:

The group was hanging out at the apartment with plans to go out in Kansas City later that night. Some, including Franklin, were drinking. Everyone was “just having a good time, talking.”

The witness was in the apartment’s small kitchen with Franklin when he picked up his gun from a table, seemingly carelessly letting it point in her direction.

“I told him don’t point it at nobody, don’t point it at me,” she said.

Franklin “clocked back” the gun, shook a bullet out of the chamber, then took out the magazine. He fired it at the floor, and no bullet came out.

The woman turned away for several seconds before hearing the “pop” of an actual gunshot.

She saw her cousin Turner bleeding, close enough to Franklin to grab onto him. Turner fell to the ground and the witness, who said she had CPR training, began trying to render aid. She saw that the bullet wound was right next to Turner’s heart, but said, “I still tried.”

When the witness looked up to make sure someone was calling police, Franklin was gone.

First responders arrived and took over tending to Turner, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and took the witness and others to the police station to be interviewed.

The woman said police took her phone for their investigation but that when she got it back, she messaged with Franklin and later provided those messages to police.

“I was just telling him, like, turn yourself in,” she said. “Do what’s right.”

Text messages displayed in court showed her urging Franklin to turn himself in, and Franklin replying, “U know it was an accident.” Franklin’s texts also included statements that he would have to “do 20” years, and alluded to taking his own life.

Lawrence police arrested Franklin late the night of Dec. 31.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Franklin’s appointed attorney Michael Clarke argued that the state didn’t present enough evidence to show probable cause that Franklin acted recklessly, noting that the witness did not see Franklin fire the gun at Turner.

“We don’t know what happened here,” Clarke said. “It is possible that this weapon malfunctioned.”

Prosecutor Amy McGowan argued otherwise, and the judged sided with the state.

Kittel said evidence showed that Franklin, in a small room occupied by multiple people, knew the gun had been loaded and had even been warned by the witness to be careful with it. That, Kittel said, showed Franklin acted recklessly by “disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”

Franklin pleaded not guilty. A three-day jury trial is scheduled to begin June 20.