Topeka teens charged with attempted first-degree murder in shooting of 2 Lawrence brothers
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Two teens have been charged with two counts of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated robbery in connection with a March 29 shooting at Holcom Park that seriously injured two teen brothers.
Benson J. Edwards Jr., 17, and Sahavione K. Caraway, 17, both of Topeka, had their first appearances, separate but back-to-back, on Tuesday in Douglas County District Court. Both pleaded not guilty to all charges, and both could still be tried as adults.
The charges allege that the defendants shot the two victims multiple times in the incident, which occurred around 4 p.m. Friday at the west edge of Holcom Park, 2700 W. 27th St.
Charges also allege that Edwards, armed with a .32-caliber Tanfoglio Giuseppe handgun, and Caraway, armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 — a semi-automatic rifle — stole one victim’s “vaplug cartridges” and the other victim’s iPhone 6.
In a news release Saturday, Lawrence police said the 18-year-old victim, whom multiple sources and court documents have identified as Ulises Rojo, remained in critical condition but was stable. The 16-year-old victim, identified by his initials in court documents but whom multiple Journal-World sources have identified as Daniel Rojo, was in stable condition. The two are brothers who attend Lawrence High School. As of Tuesday, Lawrence Police Sgt. Amy Rhoads said their conditions have not changed.
In addition to the first four felonies, Edwards is charged with criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In both cases, prosecutor Bryant Barton asked that the defendants should remain in detention because, based on the affidavit and the court’s risk assessment, they could be dangers to the community. Neither teen’s defense attorney argued for release.
Barton said the district attorney’s office had not yet decided whether either case would remain in the juvenile division, but he thought it was likely the case would move to the adult division.
Both of Edwards’ parents and a few other family members were in attendance for his hearing.
Judge Bethany Roberts told Caraway that her administrative assistant had left a message for his mother, who was not present Tuesday. Edwards’ father and a few others stayed in the courtroom for Caraway’s hearing, though. As he was heading out of the courtroom in the bailiff’s custody, Caraway told the family members, “I love you; sorry.”
Edwards has a criminal history in Douglas County, as a juvenile, including a felony conviction for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Edwards previously lived in Lawrence, documents from his Douglas County District Court cases indicate. He has at some times lived with his father here and at other times with his mother in Topeka over the past several years.
In July 2017, Edwards allegedly broke the gate at a Lawrence junkyard, stole a Honda Odyssey van and used it to assault a law enforcement officer during a car chase, according to charges and other court documents.
According to court documents:
Lawrence police started pursuing the van in the 1800 block of West 21st Terrace after seeing it driving without headlights. A sheriff’s deputy who joined the pursuit reported that the van tried to ram his vehicle when he attempted to stop it on Kansas Highway 10 near East 1900 Road.
Edwards told authorities he and some friends were bored, went “sightseeing” at the scrapyard and found the van with the keys in it. He said they went joyriding around town, then drove out to the country until the vehicle ran out of gas, then ran.
He pleaded no contest and was convicted of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, a felony, and criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor. A felony theft charge was dropped in the plea deal.
A second juvenile case was filed against Edwards for an incident a week earlier in July 2017, in which he was charged with deprivation of property for unauthorized use of a tractor belonging to a local business and three counts of property damage for damaging windows of cars at a different Lawrence scrapyard, all misdemeanors.
In that case, Edwards told authorities he was with friends at a park, where they found a tractor parked with keys in the ignition, started it and caused it to tip over, then left. He pleaded no contest to one count of property damage and the other counts were dropped.
For both cases, Edwards was sentenced to nine months on probation, which was supposed to conclude in late February of this year.
While those cases were pending, Edwards got in trouble twice for substance use in 2018, including being suspended for being under the influence of alcohol at LHS — where he attended school from 2016 through January of this year, according to the district — and several months later testing positive for marijuana.
Caraway has a traffic case pending in Shawnee County in which he is charged with reckless driving and driving without a valid license, according to online records.
Edwards’ attorney is Robb Edmonds, of Overland Park-based Bath & Edmonds.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Lawrence attorney Juanita Carlson filled in to represent Caraway; after the appearance, the judge appointed Branden Smith to the case, according to online court records.
Edwards and Caraway remain in custody at the Juvenile Detention Center.
The Journal-World’s attempts to reach the Rojos’ family members have been unsuccessful.