Judge rejects Lawrence triple-murder defendant’s self-defense claim

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Seated next to his appointed attorneys, Anthony L. Roberts Jr. looks back at relatives in the gallery during a hearing on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

A man accused of fatally shooting three people and injuring a fourth in downtown Lawrence asked a judge to find that he acted legally in self-defense, and drop his charges.

The judge rejected that request Friday.

The murder trial against Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 21, of Topeka, remains scheduled to begin June 10.

Roberts’ self-defense immunity request was filed last fall by his original attorney, who ended up removed from his case after causing a mistrial in November. The trial against Roberts and two co-defendants was underway when Jennifer Chaffee’s comments and questions during jury selection tainted the jury pool beyond repair, Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny found.

At Friday’s hearing on the immunity request, Roberts’ new attorneys chose not to call witnesses or put on additional evidence to argue that Roberts acted in self-defense.

Saying they didn’t have anything specific to respond to, prosecutors didn’t call witnesses either.

So, Pokorny based her decision on three days’ worth of testimony and cross-examination she heard at Roberts’ preliminary hearing last year. The judge said she’d re-reviewed the transcript in light of Roberts’ self-defense immunity request but that there wasn’t evidence to support that argument.

“I could not find it,” Pokorny said.

Deputy District Attorney David Melton said defense attorneys and witnesses adequately explored relevant issues at the preliminary hearing — including whether any of the victims or their associates had guns, and who started the dispute that preceded the shooting.

Based on that information, Melton said Roberts “did not act reasonably in using deadly force.”

Roberts’ new attorneys, Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden, both appointed after Chaffee’s removal, said they could address self-defense issues during his trial instead.

As for their specific defense strategy, Seiden said that’s to be determined.

Prior to the trial that was called off, Roberts’ first attorney said she planned to employ a self-defense claim at trial, asserting that most of the five people killed or injured shouldn’t be called victims.

About 1:40 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2017, groups of Topeka men with prior bad blood came together at the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets. A fistfight ensued, then gunfire.

It was bar-closing time on a busy night in downtown Lawrence, and the barrage of close to 20 gunshots hit five people.

Killed were Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka; and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka. Two more Topeka men were shot but survived.

Brown, who had just left a bar with a friend, was the only victim who didn’t know anyone involved.

Roberts is 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.

Roberts was set to go on trial with his two co-defendants, but after November’s mistrial the judge split up their cases.

Ahmad M. Rayton, 23, of Topeka, is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Rayton is scheduled to go on trial April 8.

Dominique J. McMillon’s case is now resolved.

Earlier this week, McMillon, 20, of Topeka, pleaded no contest to a single count of misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to less time than he’d already served in jail in the case. Initially, he’d also been charged with aggravated assault, a felony.

Roberts and Rayton each remain jailed on $1 million bond.

Recent coverage: Downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

• March 5 — One co-defendant in downtown Lawrence triple murder case now free after pleading to misdemeanor

• Jan. 11 — Massachusetts Street triple murder trial pushed back until June

• Dec. 4 — After attorney drama in Lawrence triple murder trial, new defense team ready to move forward

• Nov. 20 — Citing ‘incompetence,’ judge kicks attorney off downtown Lawrence triple murder case

• Nov. 16 — Defense attorney tainted jury pool, causing mistrial in downtown Lawrence triple murder case, transcript reveals

• Nov. 15 — Judge: Defense attorney’s demand to disqualify DA from triple murder trial was ‘totally misplaced’

• Nov. 9 — Each defendant in downtown triple murder case will now have his own trial; family of shooting victim ‘devastated’

• Nov. 8 — Mass. Street triple murder trial called off: Judge declares mistrial before jury is picked

• Nov. 7 — Still no jury after 3 days of jury selection for downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

• Nov. 6 — 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

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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