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

Other criminal activity by defendants, victims has been subject of debate by attorneys

photo by: Nick Krug

District judge Sally Pokorny listens to members of the defense and prosecution during a meeting at the bench on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Douglas County District Court. On Monday, witnesses provided testimony in the case of three men, who 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.

The Motel 6 murder trial had tentatively been on pace to be turned over to the jury Wednesday afternoon.

However, yet another behind-the-scenes legal issue arose Wednesday morning, one that would take longer to resolve than a brief meeting with attorneys in the judge’s office. About 11:45 a.m. Judge Sally Pokorny told jurors to go home and come back Thursday morning.

“We have run across another legal issue that we need to deal with, and at a minimum it will take the rest of the day,” Pokorny said.

Attorneys had already been conferring for nearly an hour in Pokorny’s office, and none of them explained in open court what the issue was about, though prosecutors mentioned needing to obtain a recording.

The three defendants were being transported back to the jail and lawyers were heading back to their respective offices for the afternoon, or until whatever they needed to review and discuss became available.

The trial began Aug. 13, with two days of jury selection, and was scheduled to run through the end of this week in Douglas County District Court.

It’s already featured frequent behind-the-scenes legal discussions that the jury won’t be privy to, because the judge ruled certain details could cause unfair prejudice against one side or the other.

Defense attorneys opened their case Tuesday afternoon and have been quizzing law enforcement to reinforce points the victims initially lied about in police interviews, plus other inconsistencies in statements from those interviews versus the witness stand.

None of the four surviving victims gave straight stories to police right off the bat, according to trial testimony so far. Some said they were scared to identify the shooters or didn’t want to get in trouble themselves.

Those left alive at the scene included people who’d been smoking marijuana, drinking underage or had guns they may not have been legally allowed to possess, testimony has indicated. At least one, alleged attempted robbery victim Mathdaniel Squirrel, had unrelated warrants from another county and was arrested on those after being interviewed by Lawrence police, according to jail records from the time.

The fatal incident happened about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 2, 2017, at Motel 6, 1130 N. Third St.

A group of nine men from Topeka and the Kansas City area had been partying in room 308 — with plans to go to a strip club and then Massachusetts Street — when at least two dozen shots erupted in the small room.

Cameron Hooks, 23, of Lenexa, was shot five times and died in an ambulance shortly after the incident.

Laroyce Thomas, of Kansas City, Kan., was shot eight times.

Dominck Frye, of Topeka, was shot four times.

Frye’s other Topeka friends, Squirrel and Tanner Marlow, were not hit.

Surviving victims have testified that four other men who came together from Kansas City were the shooters.

Tyrone J. Carvin, 20, 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.

Despite testimony about the fourth man, no other suspect has been publicly named or charged.

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Lawrence Police Department officers investigate a fatal Saturday night shooting at Motel 6 in North Lawrence, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017.

The defendants remain in custody, each on $1 million bond. Carvin is represented by appointed attorney Michael Clarke, Singleton by appointed attorney Forrest Lowry and Smith by attorney Gary Long.

Most of the Motel 6 trial’s behind-the-scenes legal issues have revolved around other criminal activity of nearly everyone involved — defendants and victims alike.

The judge ruled in one pretrial hearing that attorneys were not to bring up gangs, which the defense wanted permission to question witnesses about. Prosecutors said there was evidence that a number of people involved were affiliated with gangs but that there was not evidence that the Motel 6 incident was gang-motivated.

The judge also ruled that attorneys couldn’t bring up other pending criminal charges against witnesses in front of the jury. Shooting victim Thomas — who ultimately refused to testify so as not to incriminate himself in a different pending case — is currently charged in Johnson County with attempted murder, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Also, the jury did not get an explanation of why alleged attempted robbery victim Squirrel wasn’t testifying in person at the trial. A DA’s office investigator and Lawrence police detective told the judge earlier this month that they couldn’t find Squirrel to give him his subpoena, and that he’d even skipped out on his bondsman in another county where he’s facing charges.

photo by: Nick Krug

From left, defendants Shawn Smith, Ramone Singleton and Tyrone Carvin stay seated as their attorneys speak with Judge Sally Pokorny during the Lawrence Motel 6 murder trial, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Douglas County District Court.

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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