Man convicted in downtown Lawrence triple murder gets life sentence

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 22, listens as the judge reads his life sentence on Aug. 1, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Story updated at 2:27 p.m. Thursday

For each of the three victims killed in a shooting on Massachusetts Street, and a fourth who was injured, the man responsible deserved a separate sentence, the judge ruled Thursday morning in Douglas County District Court.

Anthony Laron Roberts Jr., 22, of Topeka, was convicted on June 25 in the triple murder that happened in a span of just a few seconds on the night of Oct. 1, 2017, at 11th and Massachusetts streets.

Judge Sally Pokorny said at least seven families and innumerable people were affected by Roberts’ actions.

“The sorrow that you’ve placed in their hearts, in your own family, is incalculable,” Pokorny said and then described how none of the victims’ family members, or those of his two co-defendants in the case, would ever be able to walk down the street and know that they’re safe again.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County District Judge Sally Pokorny reads Anthony L. Roberts Jr.’s life sentence in court on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.

She also said that people who weren’t even in downtown Lawrence that night don’t feel safe there anymore — “That’s a terrible thing to have happened to this town.”

Asked if he would like to say anything before he was sentenced, Roberts said “No, I’m good.” Through most of the proceedings Thursday, he was quiet, rocking his chair back and forth.

Pokorny gave him four sentences, to be served consecutively: two life sentences for the first-degree felony murders of Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee, and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka; and the maximum aggravated sentences for two other convictions, 165 months for the second-degree intentional murder of Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka, and 61 months for attempted second-degree murder of Topeka resident Tahzay Rayton, who survived being shot twice.

photo by: Contributed photos

From left, Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka; and Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka.

On prescribing the sentences consecutively, Pokorny also noted that Roberts should get no benefit from the “efficiency” of the murders.

For his life sentences, Roberts is not eligible for good time credit, Pokorny said. He can appeal his sentence within 14 days. She gave him 646 days credit for time already served.

She told Roberts he would need to register as a violent offender for 15 years, and if he failed to do so it would result in a serious felony charge.

“I don’t care,” Roberts said in response.

Roberts must serve at least 68 years in prison before he can be eligible for parole — at age 90. That includes his two shorter sentences and at least 25 years for each of the counts of first-degree murder, Dorothy Kliem, trial assistant for the DA, said via email.

After sentencing him, Pokorny explained to Roberts that if he could not afford it, he could request an appointed attorney to represent him if he wants to appeal.

“I ain’t broke,” Roberts said.

Pokorny responded that then she would assess fees, including $193 for court costs, a $200 DNA fee, $100 Kansas Board of Indigents’ Defense Service fee and appointed attorney fees, to be determined.

• • •

In a case that brought so much sorrow, anger and sadness to so many families, Roberts never showed an ounce of remorse, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said at the sentencing.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, standing, addresses the judge during sentencing for Anthony L. Roberts Jr., Aug. 1, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

Family members of two of the victims spoke in court about the impacts that the deaths have had on their lives.

Henderson’s older sister, Alize Henderson — surrounded by family members for support — described how her evening out in Lawrence with her brother was supposed to be fun.

“I watched my younger brother go from laughing and joking with me … to seeing him take his last breaths in my arms,” she said. She described watching police put her brother in the back of a patrol car to rush him to the hospital, then waiting for hours, unable to see him. His blood covered her hands, skirt and blouse, she said.

She shared how her own daughter and her brother’s daughter will never know him, outside of photos. But she said he was an amazing father who was funny, confident, loyal and a protector who looked out for everyone else before himself.

“I’ll forever be broken by this horrible tragedy,” she said.

Brown’s uncle, Jason Williams, spoke “in honor of Leah” and on behalf of her other family members.

He described her as someone who lived life fearlessly, and who was just as comfortable in cowgirl boots as she was in high heels.

“It breaks my heart to wonder if she was wearing heels or carrying them as she ran for her life on that night out,” Williams said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. listens as Jason Williams (not pictured), the uncle of Leah Elizabeth Brown — one of three killed in a triple shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, in downtown Lawrence — talks about his niece at Roberts’ sentencing, Aug. 1, 2019, in Douglas County District Court. At right is one of Roberts’ defense attorneys, Shaye Downing.

He said “everyone knows” that Lawrence bars are safer than the clubs in Kansas City. Brown wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said — “senseless violence” was.

After the sentencing, members of Henderson’s family said they were thankful for the Lawrence Police Department, the judge and the district attorney for their “countless hours” of work on the case.

“This is the best outcome that could’ve been,” said Henderson’s aunt, Dallas Ratliff. “Nobody wins. Everybody’s lost, including the defendant.”

Ratliff also noted that there are now “plenty of fatherless children” as a result of that night.

“The violence needs to stop,” Ratliff said.

Novel Carter, Henderson’s mother, struggled to find words after she stepped out of the courtroom. But she later told the Journal-World via email that now, the day before what would’ve been her son’s 22nd birthday, “I’m able to let out a deep breath. For the defendant to not show one ounce of remorse, this sentence was the correct outcome. Although his sentence is a life sentence, he still has life; my son does not.”

• • •

Roberts’ trial spanned two weeks, during which jurors heard about the chaotic incident that started with a fistfight between two groups of Topeka men with bad blood and devolved into more than 20 gunshots fired.

After about five hours of deliberation, jurors returned guilty verdicts on all four counts.

Roberts’ defense attorneys, Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden, had filed a motion for a new trial, citing a few concerns with procedures throughout the trial. One of their points was that showing photos of the victims’ bodies prejudiced the jury.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Defense attorney Joshua Seiden, standing, lists points in a motion for a new trial for Anthony L. Roberts Jr., pictured seated at left, on Aug. 1, 2019 in Douglas County District Court. To the right of Roberts is defense attorney Shaye Downing.

Pokorny said she’s been in criminal justice for more than 40 years, and the photos — which she said were “absolutely necessary” for prosecutors to prove the identities of the victims — were some of the “least gruesome” she’s ever seen.

Downing asked the judge to consider giving Roberts concurrent sentences, so that there could be some “light at the end of the tunnel” for his young children.

Branson prosecuted the case along with Deputy District Attorney David Melton and Assistant District Attorney Hannah Wittman.

Two co-defendants in the case — Ahmad Malik Rayton, 23, of Topeka, and Dominique Jacquez McMillon, 20, of Topeka — pleaded to lesser charges earlier this year. Rayton is serving a 10-year sentence, and McMillon was released on time served.


Contact Mackenzie Clark

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Coverage from trial

• June 25 — Jury finds Topeka man guilty of 3 downtown Lawrence murders

• June 24 — Jury deliberating intentional murder versus self-defense

• June 21 — Defendant says he fired wildly in fear, ‘wasn’t thinking at all’

• June 20 — Defendant: ‘I been shot twice’ in Topeka, came to Lawrence to party without fear of violence

• June 19 — Testimony: 15 shell casings from scene were all fired from defendant’s gun, 2 victims were shot in the back

• June 18 — Witness says defendant told her, ‘I shot Colwin’

• June 17 — Shooting survivor, friend of defendant testify reluctantly

• June 14 — Eyewitness testifies he saw triple murder defendant, second man shooting on Mass. Street

• June 13 — Witnesses at trial describe immediate aftermath of triple homicide

• June 12 — Prosecutors say defendant came to ‘settle a score’ and murdered 3 in melee; he argues he fired in self-defense


Related coverage: Downtown Lawrence triple murder case

• June 11 — Jury selection will continue for third day in Massachusetts Street murder trial

• June 10 — Massachusetts Street triple murder trial begins in Lawrence

• May 31 — Witness, evidence issues addressed at pretrial hearing in Massachusetts Street triple murder case

• May 13 — After plea deals in downtown Lawrence triple-murder case, DA wants co-defendants to testify against friend

• May 8 — Topeka man sentenced to 10 years in prison for role in Massachusetts Street shootings

• April 3 — Second co-defendant convicted following plea deal in Massachusetts Street murder case

• March 8 — Judge rejects Lawrence triple-murder defendant’s self-defense claim

• 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

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