About 170 potential jurors fill courthouse to begin selection process for downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

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.

Story updated at 5:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

Close to 170 potential jurors flowed into the Douglas County District Courthouse Monday morning, kicking off the court’s largest jury selection operation in recent history, if ever.

The group will be carved down to a panel of 12 jurors to hear and decide the downtown Lawrence triple murder case, the city’s only triple murder in recent history, or at least 15 years, police have said.

One defendant is accused of all three killings, and his two co-defendants of lesser crimes, in connection with an Oct. 1, 2017, shooting that left three dead and two others injured at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets.

The violent incident left chaos, panic and pools of blood on the pavement at bar-closing time on an extra-busy night in downtown Lawrence. Police estimate that possibly hundreds of people were in the area when the shooting happened, within hours of Late Night in the Phog at Allen Fieldhouse and a large concert at the Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St., with a guest appearance by rapper Lil Yachty.

Using a descriptor repeated by others, one downtown patron described the incident to the Journal-World afterward as seemingly “unreal.”

Those 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.

“We’re hopeful to try and find fair and impartial jurors,” District Attorney Charles Branson told potential jurors before launching into one round of questioning on Monday. “Part of that also is trying to find jurors that are appropriate for this particular case.”

The district court clerk’s office had qualified just more than 170 jurors to appear Monday, clerk Douglas Hamilton said during a pretrial hearing late last week.

Judge Sally Pokorny said she thought that would be enough to arrive at a 12-member jury with four alternates, following the process of voir dire and strikes. Four alternates is more than usual, but Pokorny said she thought that was appropriate for the type and length of the case.

By comparison, for the recent Motel 6 murder trial — which also had three defendants — about 140 potential jurors came in on the morning of trial. Two alternates were selected in that case.

The Massachusetts Street murder trial is scheduled to last two full weeks, but could take longer depending on legal issues that may arise and how long the jury takes to deliberate.

Already, prosecutors have said in pretrial hearings that they may have problems getting some of their witnesses to court, either because they can’t find them or they don’t want to testify. Also, the murder defendant’s attorney has requested a special immunity hearing within the trial to show evidence that her client acted in self-defense and to argue that his charges should be dismissed altogether.

Each of the three defendants has his own attorney. The initial shooting and ensuing court proceedings have been covered by local and regional media.

On Monday morning, seated alongside their attorneys at a table facing potential jurors, all three defendants wore purple or purple-patterned collared shirts. All remain in custody but are allowed to wear street clothes for their trial.

The defendants are 21-year-old Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 23-year-old Ahmad M. Rayton and 20-year-old Dominique J. McMillon, all of Topeka.

The three friends rode together to Lawrence on the night of the shootings and headed for Massachusetts Street, where some other people they knew were out, according to testimony from the preliminary hearing.

At about 1:40 a.m., a fistfight broke out between the defendants and other Topeka men they had bad blood with. A flurry of close to 20 gunshots followed, hitting five people around the intersection.

Roberts is charged with three counts of murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder. Rayton is charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. McMillon is charged with aggravated assault and misdemeanor battery.

According to discussion at pretrial hearings, the jury selection process is anticipated to take at least two and a half days. A number of potential jurors were released Monday, and the remainder were instructed to return Tuesday to continue the selection process.

Downtown Lawrence triple murder trial at a glance

The crime

• 1:40 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets. A fistfight broke out between groups of Topeka residents with prior bad blood, followed by a flurry of close to 20 gunshots. It was bar-closing time on a busy night in downtown Lawrence.

The victims

• Leah Brown, 22, of Shawnee — Brown, a bystander, had come to Lawrence with a friend and just left Brothers Bar and Grill, 1105 Massachusetts St., when she was hit by gunfire. Brown worked in the child center at Life Time Fitness in Lenexa. After being home in Shawnee on medical leave, she had planned to return to Navy boot camp. Brown had been an athlete at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, loved to roller skate and had her own motorcycle.

• Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka — Henderson was a new father, with a 10-month-old baby girl he “adored,” according to his girlfriend.

• Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka — Dean-Rayton, one of five siblings, was described as funny and easygoing. He was planning a move to California, where he didn’t have firm plans but wanted to do something different.

• Royelle Hunt and Tahzay Rayton, both of Topeka — Shot but survived. Rayton previously testified that he came to Lawrence that night with Dean-Rayton, his cousin.

• Robert Wheeler of Topeka — Allegedly the victim of aggravated assault and battery. Wheeler was friends with Henderson and Hunt. He also knew Rayton and Dean-Rayton, and greeted them outside after the concert.

The defendants

• Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 21, of Topeka — Charged with one count of first-degree felony murder, for allegedly killing Brown while trying to kill Henderson; one count of first-degree felony murder for allegedly killing Dean-Rayton while trying to kill Henderson; one count of second-degree murder for allegedly intentionally killing Henderson; and one count of attempted second-degree murder for allegedly shooting Tahzay Rayton twice.

• Ahmad M. Rayton, 23, of Topeka — Charged with one count of attempted second-degree murder for allegedly firing at Wheeler; one count of attempted second-degree murder for allegedly shooting Hunt in the leg; and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

• Dominique J. McMillon, 20, of Topeka — Charged with one count of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening Wheeler with a gun. McMillon also is charged with one misdemeanor, battery, for allegedly hitting Wheeler in the fight.

The attorneys

• Prosecution — Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, Chief Assistant DA David Melton and Assistant DA Hannah Wittman.

• Defense — Topeka-based Jennifer Chaffee, retained to represent Roberts. Lawrence-based appointed attorneys Michael Clarke, representing Rayton, and J.C. Gilroy, representing McMillon.

The judge

• Sally Pokorny — a Douglas County District Court judge since 2009. This is the third murder trial Pokorny has presided over this year.

The trial

• Began with jury selection on Nov. 5. Scheduled to take at least two weeks.

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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