Jury selection spills into third day for Massachusetts Street triple murder trial; media coverage of high-profile case factors into questioning

photo by: Nick Krug

From left, defendants Anthony L. Roberts Jr., Ahmad M. Rayton and Dominique J. McMillon sit during a joint preliminary hearing, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, for charges related to a October 2017 triple homicide on Massachusetts Street.

After a second full day of jury selection, a panel still hadn’t been picked to decide the downtown Lawrence triple murder case.

Potential jurors were asked to return to the courthouse Wednesday morning to continue the process.

The group of roughly 170 potential jurors summoned Monday morning had been whittled down to roughly 100 by the end of Tuesday. Most of the cut jurors were released because of hardships.

On Tuesday afternoon, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson posed “more serious questions” to those who remained.

His inquiries included whether people could handle seeing photos of fatal bullet wounds, whether they had strong feelings about law enforcement one way or the other and whether they would be comfortable “judging” other humans in the way a jury does at a criminal trial.

Branson also asked how much potential jurors knew about the high-profile case from the news or social media, and whether they’d be able to set that aside.

“Because of the nature of the case, there’s been larger-than-usual coverage,” Branson said. “I know there’s going to be a large show of hands in here, but has anybody in here read, followed media coverage of this case?”

About half the room — dozens of people — raised hands.

Most said they’d read about the case in the Journal-World but it wouldn’t influence their ability to be impartial. One man said he’d seen the slayings come up on national TV — when comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who’s married to a University of Kansas graduate, mentioned them briefly in a somber monologue about gun violence.

In summarizing the case at hand for potential jurors, Branson said:

The state alleges that in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 2017, the defendants came to Lawrence to confront a group of men they knew were in town attending a concert. The two groups encountered each other on the street corner, where two of the defendants produced handguns and started shooting, killing three people and wounding two others.

The three defendants, all from Topeka, are going on trial as a group.

Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 21, is charged with all three alleged murders and one count of attempted murder.

Ahmad M. Rayton, 23, faces two counts of attempted murder for allegedly firing at one man and shooting another, plus one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Dominique J. McMillon, 20, is charged with one count of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening someone with a gun, plus misdemeanor battery for hitting the same man during a fistfight that preceded the gunfire.

The fistfight and ensuing gunfire — police officers less than a block away reported hearing 20 shots — broke out about 1:40 a.m. at the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets.

The people who died were 22-year-old Leah Brown, of Shawnee; 20-year-old Colwin Lynn Henderson, of Topeka; and 24-year-old Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, of Topeka. The two men who were shot but survived also were from Topeka.

Brown is the only victim who didn’t know anyone involved. She’d just left a nearby bar with a friend when she was shot.

In pretrial hearings, Judge Sally Pokorny and attorneys said they thought jury selection would take at least 2 1/2 days.

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks in all, but could take longer depending on legal issues and how long jurors deliberate.

Coverage: Downtown Lawrence triple murder case and trial

• Nov. 7, 2018 — Still no jury after 3 days of jury selection for downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

• Nov. 6, 2018 — Jury selection spills into third day for Massachusetts Street triple murder trial; media coverage of high-profile case factors into questioning

• Nov. 5 — About 170 potential jurors fill courthouse to begin selection process for downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

• Nov. 1 — Murder defendant’s attorney, DAs clash in ‘cringeworthy’ final hearing before Mass. Street trial

• Oct. 31 — In last-minute filing, Mass. Street triple murder defendant wants DA disqualified from upcoming trial

• Oct. 19 — Lawyer says Massachusetts Street triple murder defendant plans to argue self-defense, slain men shouldn’t be called victims

• Aug. 3 — ‘Significant’ new evidence in downtown Lawrence triple murder case; trial delayed until November

• April 27 — Jury trial set for September in downtown Lawrence triple murder case

• March 27 — Defendants in downtown Lawrence murder case will face jury together; trial delayed until later this year

• Feb. 9 — Judge orders trial, upgrades some charges in downtown Lawrence triple murder case

• Feb. 8 — Footage played at preliminary hearing shows triple homicide unfold on Massachusetts Street

• Jan. 19 — Officers testify about chaos, life-saving measures in aftermath of downtown Lawrence shooting

• Jan. 11 — Court testimony: Topeka feud led to ‘mayhem’ that left 3 dead on Massachusetts Street

• Jan. 10, 2018 — Hearing expected to reveal details of triple homicide on Massachusetts Street

• Dec. 4 — Preliminary hearing for downtown Lawrence triple murder case pushed back a month

• Nov. 8 — Joint preliminary hearing set for 3 defendants in Massachusetts Street triple murder case

• Nov. 1 — Triple murder defendant still has no attorney; his and companion cases progressing together

• Oct. 31 — Judge seals affidavits in Mass. Street murder case, citing ongoing investigation and potential danger to witnesses

• Oct. 29 — How do Lawrence police patrol downtown? In wake of Mass Street killings, department has stepped up patrols; no permanently designated officers

• Oct. 25 — Massachusetts Street triple murder suspect appears in court alongside 2 other defendants

• Oct. 24 — Triple murder suspect arrives in Lawrence from Kansas City jail

• Oct. 19 — Charges begin to fill in details on triple homicide on Mass Street; murder suspect waives extradition

• Oct. 18 — Topeka man arrested on suspicion of killing 3 people in downtown Lawrence

• Oct. 18 — Hearings for downtown Lawrence shooting defendants pushed back a week

• Oct. 17 — After 2 arrests, Lawrence police still searching for killer or killers in downtown shooting

• Oct. 13 — No arrests in downtown triple homicide; Lawrence police say investigation is active and ‘progressing’

• Oct. 4 — Funerals set for two young Topeka men killed in downtown Lawrence shootings

• Oct. 3 — Services set for woman, 22, killed in downtown Lawrence shootings; Leah Brown described as loving, ‘vibrant’

• Oct. 2 — Police: Shooting on Massachusetts Street that killed 3 was not a random act; 1 injured survivor released from hospital; other in stable condition

• Oct. 1 — Lawrence has had 5 homicides since Sept. 1 and city leaders are searching for answers

• Oct. 1, 2017 — 5 people shot in downtown Lawrence; 3 dead

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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