Opening testimony in Motel 6 murder case describes blood, chaos, confusion surrounding triple shooting

photo by: Nick Krug

Defendants Tyrone Carvin, front, and Ramone Singleton, center, stand to leave the courtroom for a recess on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, at the Douglas County Courthouse. The two along with another man are charged with the murder of Cameron Hooks and other crimes in connection with a Sept. 2, 2017, shooting at the North Lawrence Motel 6. Also pictured is Forrest Lowry, Singleton's attorney.

Bleeding inside a third-floor room at a North Lawrence motel, a frantic 23-year-old Cameron Hooks calls 911.

“I’m shot! I’m shot! I’m in Lawrence, Kansas,” Hooks yells. “I’m at Motel 6.”

The dispatcher says help is on the way and presses for more details including, “Who shot you?” to which Hooks repeatedly responds, “I don’t know.”

That 911 call was played for a jury Wednesday morning, the opening day of testimony at the trial for three men charged with murdering Hooks and shooting two other men who were with him about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 2, 2017, at Motel 6, 1130 N. Third St.

After a two-day jury selection process, attorneys gave opening statements Wednesday. The trial, in the courtroom of Douglas County District Judge Sally Pokorny, is expected to take two weeks.

Tyrone J. Carvin, 19, of Kansas City, Kan.; Ramone Singleton, 23, of Kansas City, Kan.; and Shawn K. Smith, 19, of Kansas City, Mo., are each charged with first-degree felony murder, for allegedly killing Hooks during the commission or attempted commission of an armed robbery; aggravated battery; aggravated assault; and attempted armed robbery.

Witnesses at a previous hearing said a fourth man was with them. However, no other suspect has been publicly named or charged, the district attorney’s office confirmed this week.

The state described a chain of events on a day that culminated with nine men — all from Topeka or the Kansas City area — partying together in the motel room before the gunfire rang out. Prosecutor C.J. Rieg highlighted evidence she said would show that the three defendants are the men responsible for the crimes.

“Cameron Hooks was killed by four men that came from Kansas City, Kansas, at the Motel 6, and three of the men are sitting in the courtroom today,” Rieg said.

Defense attorneys aimed to cast doubt on that, largely by emphasizing widely inconsistent stories given by the surviving victims — from their 911 calls, to their first contacts with police, to their later formal interviews.

Forrest Lowry, appointed to represent Singleton, said nothing was actually taken and that the incident was not a robbery.

“The evidence will be confusing, it will be inconclusive, it will be mysterious,” Lowry said. “This case is mysterious, and when this case is over with and you have all the evidence, I predict you still won’t know who shot, who started the shooting, or why.”

Hooks, of Lenexa, was shot five times, and died before he was able to board a helicopter for a Kansas City area hospital, Rieg said.

Rieg said evidence presented over the course of the trial would show the following:

Three Topeka friends — Dominck Frye, Mathdaniel Squirrel and Tanner Marlow — went to Oak Park Mall in Overland Park to get some clothes for the night, then came to Lawrence to party and got a room at Motel 6.

Squirrel had been posting about the group’s plans on social media, and his friend LaRoyce Thomas, of Kansas City, joined them in Lawrence. Thomas brought a friend no one else in the group had met, Hooks.

Later, another acquaintance of Squirrel’s, Carvin, joined them at Motel 6. Carvin brought with him Singleton, Smith and the unnamed fourth man.

The group was drinking, smoking marijuana and watching football in the room with plans to go to a strip club in North Lawrence, then to Massachusetts Street.

Squirrel got up to change his shirt to go out when the shooting started.

“One of these four guys from Kansas City points a gun at him and says, ‘run everything,’ so he knows he’s getting robbed,” Rieg said.

Squirrel pushed the gun away from him and it fired, and Squirrel took off.

“Then shots start firing, and it is deafening,” Rieg said.

Rieg described the ensuing police investigation, which included surveillance images of men running from Motel 6 and Singleton’s car coming into town on the Kansas Turnpike. They recovered Smith’s green Nike sandals left in the motel hall, and later Carvin took himself to the University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, Kan., to be treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

Rieg said there were also phone records and social media photos from earlier that day showing what the people involved were wearing.

Forensic testing showed that four guns were fired in the room, Rieg said. Two of the victims were carrying guns, she said, but none of the spent shell casings came from them.

In his opening statements, Michael Clarke, appointed to represent Carvin, also highlighted major inconsistencies in the victims’ stories. Gary Long, Smith’s attorney, elected not to give opening statements.

The three defendants appeared in court in collared shirts and slacks. They remain in custody, each held on $1 million bond.

Hooks’ mother was in the courtroom Wednesday morning, as well as several supporters of the defendants.

Some of the first Lawrence Police Department officers to reach the scene testified Wednesday, and all described chaos. Inside they encountered blood and shell casings everywhere, three gunshot victims, lots of yelling plus other motel guests in the hall outside.

Officer Brian Wonderly was the one who rendered aid to Hooks, who was lying on the bed farthest from the door, until medics arrived.

“He said he was dying multiple times,” Wonderly said. “I just tried to keep him talking, told him it was going to be all right.”

Wonderly said Hooks told him he didn’t know who the people who shot him were and that he didn’t know why they did it. Wonderly asked Hooks what he was doing in town.

“He said they were just there to have a good time,” Wonderly said.

More coverage: Motel 6 murder trial

Aug. 24Jury deliberating Motel 6 murder case; state describes premeditated crime while defendants claim they were victims of robbery attempt

Aug. 23Motel 6 murder defendant takes stand, says he and co-defendants were victims of armed robbery attempt before shooting started

Aug. 22Jurors sent home early when behind-the-scenes legal issue stalls Motel 6 murder trial

Aug. 21Missing witness in Motel 6 murder case surfaces, describes fear about taking stand

Aug. 20Four guns fired 2 dozen rounds inside Lawrence hotel room, testing in Motel 6 murder case shows

Aug. 17Motel 6 homicide victim’s body riddled with bullet holes; Lawrence hotel room left a shambles, bloody

Aug. 16More witnesses drop out of state’s lineup in Motel 6 murder case; shooting victim takes Fifth at last moment

Aug. 16Traffic cameras capture suspects’ car coming, going from North Lawrence on night of Motel 6 homicide

Aug. 15Opening testimony in Motel 6 murder case describes blood, chaos, confusion surrounding triple shooting

Aug. 14Jury selected for 2-week Motel 6 murder trial; arguments set to begin Wednesday morning

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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