‘Significant’ new evidence in downtown Lawrence triple murder case; trial delayed until November

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.

New evidence related to the Massachusetts Street triple homicide has come to light, and attorneys say it’s significant enough that more time is needed to address it before the case goes to trial.

On Friday, Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny agreed to delay the two-week murder trial until Nov. 5. The three Topeka men charged in the case had been scheduled to face a jury early next month, starting Sept. 4.

Defense attorney Jennifer Chaffee requested the continuance on behalf of her client, the man charged with all three of the killings plus additional felony counts, 21-year-old Anthony L. Roberts Jr., of Topeka.

“My client is facing multiple life sentences,” Chaffee said. “We need this time to properly prepare the defense.”

Chaffee said that she recently received additional case materials from the state that she needs more time to sift through and determine how to proceed. Included is information that she wants to have reviewed by a “ballistics expert,” as well as information that could change her defense strategy, she said.

District Attorney Charles Branson said he didn’t oppose pushing back the trial.

“Through the course of continued investigation, law enforcement was able to find and locate some significant pieces of evidence,” Branson said.

Branson, without disclosing in court what that evidence is, said he agreed that it had the potential to change defense strategies of the accused, especially Roberts.

The new trial date is a year and a month after deadly gunfire erupted on Massachusetts Street about 1:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2017, killing three people and wounding two others.

A dispute between groups of men from Topeka who knew each other preceded the shooting, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing. The accused shooters started firing from the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets, as bars were letting out for the night and perhaps hundreds of patrons were milling around.

Killed 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 were also from Topeka.

More than 30 relatives and supporters of the defendants, including several infants and older children, were in the courtroom for Friday’s hearing.

The defendants, the defendants’ families and the victims’ families are all waiting for “closure” that would come from the case being decided at trial, Pokorny said.

“To continue it is difficult for everybody,” she said.

However, Pokorny said, she did not want to push a defendant to trial before he felt ready. She said this case has very serious charges with serious consequences should a jury return a guilty verdict.

Roberts agreed, again, to waive his right to a speedy trial.

So did his co-defendants Ahmad M. Rayton, 22, represented by appointed attorney Michael Clarke, and Dominique J. McMillon, 19, with appointed attorney J.C. Gilroy.

McMillon did so reluctantly, with his attorney pointing out that his charges were limited to a single low-level felony and a misdemeanor. Gilroy said that a November trial would mean McMillon waited in jail for longer than his sentence would be if he were convicted on all his counts.

The judge said she would try to “work something out”; Branson had suggested the possibility of modifying McMillon’s bond at a later time to enable him to get out of jail earlier.

Roberts is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder, one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder. His bond is $1 million.

Rayton is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His bond is $1 million.

McMillon is charged with aggravated assault, a felony, and misdemeanor battery, for allegedly hitting a man during a fight that preceded the shootings. He’s currently being held on $25,000 bond.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd

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