Defendants in downtown Lawrence murder case will face jury together; trial delayed until later this year

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.

The three defendants in the Massachusetts Street triple homicide case will go on trial as a group, a judge ruled Tuesday.

But it’s not going to be in May as previously planned.

At the request of the defendant charged with the most severe and numerous crimes — including all three of the killings — Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny agreed to push back the trial to give that defendant’s attorney more time to prepare.

“It’s a huge case,” Pokorny said.

Pokorny and attorneys discussed rescheduling the trial for late August, but will meet again April 27 to formally set a new date.

The quintuple shooting happened at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 2017, as bars were letting out for the night.

Killed 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. Two other Topeka men were shot but survived.

Within three weeks, three Topeka men were arrested and charged in connection with the incident.

• Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 21, is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder, one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder. Roberts remains jailed on $1 million bond. His attorney is Jennifer Chaffee.

• Ahmad Rayton, 22, is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Rayton is jailed on $1 million bond. His appointed attorney is Michael Clarke.

• Dominique J. McMillon, 19, is charged with just one felony: a single count of aggravated assault. McMillon also is charged with misdemeanor battery, for allegedly hitting a man during a fight that preceded the shootings. McMillon is being held on $25,000 bond. His appointed attorney is J.C. Gilroy.

Following a three-day joint preliminary hearing, Pokorny bound the three defendants over for trial, and each pleaded not guilty on Feb. 9.

At Tuesday’s hearing, after Pokorny ruled they would continue to trial as a group as well, each defendant agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial for the date to be pushed back.

photo by: Nick Krug

Defendant Anthony L. Roberts Jr. is called to appear before Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, in the Division Six courtroom. Roberts, who is accused of murdering three people in downtown Lawrence on Oct. 1, is charged with four felony counts in the case. Two other defendants in the incident also appeared in the courtroom Wednesday — Dominique J. McMillon, seated in back, and Ahmad Rayton, seated in front.

The vast difference in charges stemming from the same incident was a key point of defense attorneys’ arguments for splitting up their clients’ trials.

On one hand is McMillon, charged with the least serious offenses.

A dozen witnesses at the preliminary hearing gave testimony that had “absolutely nothing to do with the charges against Mr. McMillon,” Gilroy said. That irrelevant testimony, combined with potentially graphic evidence such as autopsy photos and coroner’s reports, would have a cumulative effect over the course of a two-week trial, Gilroy said.

“It’s going to prejudice the jury,” Gilroy said.

Gilroy said that while McMillon did waive his right to a speedy trial, he did so reluctantly.

On the other end of the spectrum is Roberts.

“My client is charged with the most serious crimes, and charged with the most crimes,” Chaffee said, “and as such it is highly likely that the other defendants will have antagonistic defenses to him.”

Chaffee said splitting up the defendants was necessary for Roberts to get a fair trial.

photo by: Nick Krug

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, left, confers with Chief Assistant District Attorney David Melton during a preliminary hearing, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, for three men charged in connection with an October 2017 triple homicide on Massachusetts Street.

In asking for a joint trial, District Attorney Charles Branson argued that none of the defense attorneys’ arguments demonstrated “actual prejudice” against the defendants.

Pokorny agreed.

She said there was not evidence that a joint trial in this case arose to the level of “actual prejudice” or unfairness to the defendants, such as defenses that would attempt to convict a co-defendant or defenses that were mutually exclusive.

Pokorny said jury instructions would reinforce that jurors must consider each defendant and his respective charges separately.

This is one of two murder cases with three defendants currently pending in Douglas County District Court.

In the other — the Sept. 2, 2017, killing of 23-year-old Lenexa resident Cameron Hooks at Motel 6 in North Lawrence — Pokorny also recently ruled that all three defendants will stand trial jointly. A two-week trial in the Motel 6 case is scheduled to begin May 29.