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

photo by: Nick Krug

Defendant Shawn Smith leaves the courtroom during a recess on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, in the Douglas County Courthouse. Smith, along with Tyrone Carvin, right of Smith, and Ramone Singleton, standing in back with a white shirt, are charged with murder and other crimes in connection with a Sept. 2, 2017, shooting at the North Lawrence Motel 6.

There were five alleged victims in the Motel 6 murder case.

Of the four who survived that night, it appears only one will be taking the stand to testify against the three men accused of shooting, threatening and trying to rob them.

This wasn’t what prosecutors wanted. One victim was reported missing and feared dead by his father this spring. One has been searched for to no avail in multiple counties and two states. One was on deck to testify this week but at the last minute took the Fifth, so the jury won’t see or hear from him.

On top of those witness problems, prosecutors requested a material witness warrant mid-morning Thursday for a woman — the mother of one defendant — who was scheduled to testify but failed to show up.

Thursday was the fourth day of the murder trial before Judge Sally Pokorny in Douglas County District Court. The trial is scheduled to run through next week.

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

The shootings happened about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 2, 2017, at Motel 6, 1130 N. Third St. A group of nine men had been partying in room 308 — passing a bottle of alcohol and a marijuana blunt, with plans to go to a strip club and then to Massachusetts Street — when gunfire erupted.

Cameron Hooks, 23, of Lenexa, was shot five times and died before he made it to a hospital. Two other men were shot but survived.

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.

There was a fourth man with the defendants that night, according to testimony. However, he’s absent from the trial, too — no other suspect has been publicly named or charged, the district attorney’s office confirmed this week.

According to opening statements by prosecutor C.J. Rieg, here’s how everyone came to be at the motel that night:

Three Topeka friends — Dominck Frye, Mathdaniel Squirrel and Tanner Marlow — came to Lawrence to party that night and rented the room at Motel 6.

Squirrel had been posting about the 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.

When gunfire broke out at 11:30 p.m., Squirrel ran out of the hotel room and wasn’t hurt. The four men from Kansas City drove away together. Hooks, Frye and Thomas all remained in the hotel room, shot and bleeding. Marlow was panicked but unhurt.

As to what may have led up to the shooting, the victims’ stories — at least those presented in court — haven’t all been the same.

The jury has heard no discussion about why witnesses are missing, but here’s what’s going on with them.

One shooting victim in jail

Thomas was not at the preliminary hearing to testify, so the judge at that time dropped an aggravated battery charge in which he was the victim.

Initially expecting Thomas to testify at trial, however, prosecutor Rieg said in her opening statements that both Thomas and Frye had guns that night but evidence would show that neither one fired.

Thomas’ whereabouts are known: He’s been jailed in Johnson County.

In one case there, he’s charged with attempted second-degree murder and aggravated robbery from an incident earlier this year, according to Johnson County District Court records. In another, he’s charged with aggravated robbery and felony theft in a 2016 incident.

In both cases, he’s also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to Johnson County court records.

After the jury left Wednesday, Rieg told the judge that Thomas’ attorney told her he hadn’t gotten any grants of immunity from federal or Johnson County prosecutors and didn’t want to answer any questions about the gun. Rieg said prosecutors believe one gun thrown out the hotel room window was his, and that testing showed it had his DNA on it.

Thomas, wearing jail clothes with both his wrists and ankles shackled, did take the stand briefly on Thursday — but it was after the jury left the courtroom for lunch and only long enough to formally tell the judge he was refusing to testify.

“The part about incriminating myself is more so in a different county,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t worried about Douglas County, but I know from a previous incident that something said in Douglas County got back to my case in Johnson County.”

His appointed attorney, Carol Cline, confirmed that she believed the matter was in fact a Fifth Amendment issue, in which he could risk incriminating himself in another matter by testifying in this case.

Judge Pokorny released Thomas to return to Johnson County.

Attempted robbery victim on lam

The jury heard from Squirrel Thursday morning by way of an assistant DA reading a transcript of what he said at November’s preliminary hearing.

Squirrel said the group had eaten some pizza they ordered and had agreed they were ready to go to the club, so he got up and headed toward the bathroom to change into a better shirt.

“That’s when they hopped up and said, like, pretty much tried to rob us, I guess,” Squirrel said.

“I don’t know exactly what was said … give me everything or run everything.”

When asked whether the person he said pointed a gun at him was one of the three defendants in the courtroom, Squirrel said no.

He said he ran out of the room as firing started and didn’t know “exactly who all pulled guns.”

At a pretrial hearing, prosecutors called an investigator from the DA’s office and a Lawrence police detective to chronicle their attempts to find Squirrel and serve him with a subpoena to testify at this trial.

They checked social media and contacted ex-girlfriends, relatives, his bondsman and law enforcement in multiple Kansas counties and Oklahoma, where Squirrel is from. They knocked on doors at multiple possible addresses.

Squirrel was never served, and Pokorny approved his testimony by transcript.

Aggravated assault victim missing

Jurors also heard testimony from Marlow via transcript only, with no explanation for why he wasn’t on the stand.

The DA’s office also tried to serve Marlow with a subpoena to no avail, according to pretrial testimony.

Marlow’s grandparents had been cooperative in getting him to court last fall but are no longer cooperative and said they don’t know where he is, the DA’s office investigator said. In April, Marlow’s father filed a missing person report with the Topeka Police Department, and in that report said he feared someone would try to kill his son and that he thought he may already be dead.

Marlow is listed as missing in a national law enforcement database and there have been no hits of police encountering him anywhere, according to previous testimony.

Prior to the trial, Frye told authorities that his friends were scared, in part because vehicles followed them home to Topeka after they testified in Lawrence in November, according to pretrial testimony.

Marlow, seated on the bed farthest from the door when shooting broke out, said he didn’t know anything about a robbery or have anything taken. He said he heard someone yell, “(Expletive) you,” and that was it.

He said “the right side, all the people that came” were the ones shooting, and he rolled off the bed and took cover until the shooting stopped, then called 911.

Witness warrant issued

As for the woman who didn’t show up to testify Thursday, she too was discussed while the jury was out of the courtroom.

She’s Singleton’s mother, attorneys said, and she and Singleton are shown on surveillance video taking Carvin to the emergency room at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., not long after the Motel 6 shootings. Carvin was treated there for a gunshot wound to his right shoulder.

Singleton’s appointed attorney, Forrest Lowry, told the judge he had seen her in the courthouse hallway the previous day.

“She said she didn’t want to testify, and I did tell her you need to do what you’re ordered to do,” Lowry said. “I did tell her to be here.”

Shooting victim takes stand

The one victim to take the witness stand before the jury was Frye, who was shot four times but survived.

Tall and lanky, wearing a collared shirt, stonewashed jeans and white sneakers, 23-year-old Frye gave his account late Wednesday afternoon.

Frye said he’d met at least one of the defendants, Carvin, on an earlier date in Kansas City. Squirrel knew him.

Frye said Carvin wanted to buy his gun, and sent him text messages about it later, which Frye said he ignored. He said he didn’t want to sell it, and had a “funny feeling.”

Citing previous interviews with law enforcement, defense attorneys pressed Frye about whether he actually had tried to sell his gun to Carvin, which Frye denied in court.

He said Carvin and the other three from Kansas City were a little quiet in the hotel room in Lawrence but that everything seemed fine.

When they suddenly hopped up and shots started flying, Frye said he rolled facedown on the bed he was sitting on, covered his head and said a quick prayer.

“It was like 10 seconds — 10 seconds of hell,” he said.

Frye said he didn’t have an explanation for the shooting. All he heard was someone yell, “Go, go, go!” on the way out. He said nothing was taken from any of his friends.

“There was no words said,” Frye said. “That’s what was weird, there was no argument, no nothing.”

Frye said Thomas had a gun that night and so did he. Frye said he never carried a bullet in the chamber, that his gun was holstered at his waist and that he never fired it.

When the shooting stopped, Frye — bleeding — got up and locked the door until help arrived and threw his gun out the window of the room. He said he did that in a panic, scared of being the only person in the room with a gun when police showed up and being taken to jail for the shootings.

Frye said that he has two bullets still lodged in his body, that he was grazed by another, and that the fourth entered and exited his right inner thigh.

Frye showed the jury that last wound — he was wearing basketball shorts underneath jeans, which he dropped to point out two large circular scars, one high and one low on his inner thigh.

Frye said he still deals with “PTSD” and anxiety because of the shootings, plus a loss of feeling in his thigh, severe nerve pain in his hip and constant lower back pain from the bullet wounds.

“I’m just not right,” he said.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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