Court denies ‘stand your ground’ self-defense claim in 2018 double shooting in central Lawrence

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Tommy J. May, of Lawrence, appears in Douglas County District Court on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

The attorney for a Lawrence man accused of a double shooting argued in Douglas County District Court on Friday that his client should not face attempted murder charges because he was only trying to defend himself.

But Judge James McCabria rejected that claim, ruling that the attorney did not present enough evidence to back it.

In a motion, attorney Gary Conwell said his client, Tommy J. May, 59, should receive immunity from those charges through the state’s “stand your ground” law. May was charged after a July 2, 2018, double shooting injured a woman, Marzetta Yarbrough, and paralyzed a man, Jeremy Cochise Jones, who lived next door to May at 713 W. 25th St.

Conwell argued in his motion that Yarbrough came to May’s home to demand money from him with a hidden gun wrapped in pink cloth.

After May declined to give her money, Conwell argued, she shot May in the arm, which caused him to steal the gun from her and hit her with it twice as she tried to exit his home. When they reached the door, Conwell said, May attempted to keep Yarbrough from leaving and he accidentally discharged the firearm at her cheek.

As the Journal-World previously reported, May did suffer a laceration to his arm sometime that night that law enforcement initially said was possibly from gunfire but never confirmed was from being shot. The laceration could have come during the police pursuit of May that followed the shooting, during which an officer fired at him.

Once May and Yarbrough were outside the apartment, Conwell said, Jones confronted May and said that Yarbrough was his friend. Jones, Conwell said, also appeared to be raising a “silver object believed to be a handgun,” which led to May shooting Jones. May then left the scene.

In the state’s response, Assistant District Attorney Alice Walker argued that the preliminary hearing in the case showed Yarbrough had been to the grocery store and stopped by May’s place to get a ride home so she didn’t have to carry her groceries; then while in May’s apartment, Yarbrough tried to buy drugs, but May pulled a gun from behind him, hit her with the butt of it and shot her.

After hearing the gunshot and Yarbrough screaming, next-door neighbor Jones came outside and confronted May, the state said in its filed response. May then allegedly shot Jones.

Addressing McCabria on Friday, Walker said the evidence in the preliminary hearing showed that May did not have reason to believe he was in danger and that a reasonable person would not objectively believe his actions were justified — requirements of the stand your ground law.

In response, Conwell acknowledged that McCabria was about to deny the request to dismiss the charges.

He told McCabria that he normally would have filed the motion to dismiss the charges prior to the case’s preliminary hearing, which was in October 2018, but he did not join the case until after that occurred. Conwell became May’s attorney on April 24, about six months after the preliminary hearing, according to court records.

Before making his decision, McCabria noted that May had said to Jones that he’s “always trying to fight for someone.” McCabria said that quote gives him pause, suggesting it could be true May was defending himself, but it wasn’t enough.

“When I compare that to the rest of the evidence, (May’s actions) were not justified,” he said.

May is scheduled for trial on Dec. 9, according to court records. He is facing multiple charges, including aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, stemming from the pursuit that followed the shootings; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; and drug possession, in addition to the attempted murder charges.

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