Lawrence shooting trial intensifies as defense attorney probes victim’s testimony

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Tommy May, of Lawrence, listens as his defense attorney, Gary Conwell, questions a witness during trial on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

The courtroom atmosphere became so intense that a prosecutor requested a break multiple times Tuesday afternoon, but Marzetta Yarbrough said she wanted to get through her testimony.

“Let’s get it done, please,” she said from the witness stand.

Yarbrough, now 52, retold the events of July 2, 2018, when a bullet ripped through her cheek, into her shoulder and out her back. Prosecutors allege that it was fired from the Hi-Point C-9 9 mm semiautomatic handgun of Tommy May, who is on trial this week in Douglas County District Court.

May, 60, is charged with 10 felonies: first-degree attempted murder, second-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, possession of methamphetamine, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, fleeing police, and interference with law enforcement, plus three counts of criminal damage to property.

Yarbrough sat at the witness stand for roughly 3 1/2 hours Tuesday, beginning with the chain of events as she recalled them.

Yarbrough walked to Checkers Foods at 2300 Louisiana St., but she didn’t buy much because it was such an “extremely, miserably hot” day, she said. She was heading home with groceries, but she said she stopped by the fourplex where she used to live on 25th Street in hopes that someone could give her a ride home to her new residence at 25th Street and Ousdahl Road.

She saw May at 713 W. 25th St., and he invited her inside, she said. She complimented the smell of the food May was cooking, noticed a cake on the table near the door and said it looked good, too. May offered her a piece, she said.

“No one asked me what kind of cake it was,” she noted in her testimony later in the afternoon during an emotional moment when prosecutor Alice Walker asked her about parts of the night that she’d never forget.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Senior Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Alice Walker questions a witness during trial for Tommy May on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

Some of Yarbrough’s memories seemed clear, but others were not. She frequently said “I don’t want to lie” and inaccurately confirm or deny some of the smaller details, such as whether May was standing in his doorway or on his front porch when she got to his apartment.

However, some parts of her testimony changed during cross-examination by May’s defense attorney, Gary Conwell.

• • •

Yarbrough testified that while she was eating cake, May smoked some meth. He offered to share, but she declined, she said.

Eventually she thought she saw the reflection of a car pulling into the driveway, so she went to see if it was some friends who lived in the opposite unit, where she had lived previously. She knew that Jeremy Jones and his then-girlfriend Micki Ryan lived there, and a friend of Ryan, Regina Sailor, was the person whose car she saw pulling in.

Yarbrough said Ryan asked her if she had a “dub” — $20 worth — of meth for Jones, or if she knew where to find it. So Yarbrough said she returned and told May that he could either sell them a little bit of his, or if he didn’t want the money, she could give him some that she had at home.

She said May told her to determine how much to give for $20, and she took about 0.2 grams next door inside a napkin. But when she returned, she said May had become outraged out of nowhere. She said it all happened so fast and she didn’t understand exactly what went wrong, but it was something about the meth. She said he pulled a gun out from behind his back and slammed it on her head.

She said he hit her a second time and she screamed — then he accused her of “dry snitching,” which she explained to mean informing people of what’s going on without directly saying it. She said May turned or took a step toward the hallway that leads to the back of the apartment and she headed toward the door. She had reached it right as she heard a loud pop, and she thought May had shot her in the neck.

“I felt nothing but blood and warmth,” Yarbrough said.

When Walker asked her to look at a few photos that showed her injuries and asked if it was her in the images, Yarbrough took a couple of moments before she said “yes,” her voice barely above a whisper.

Yarbrough said she got out of the apartment and went down the stairs to the driveway. She made her way around the south end of the building, burrowed into some bushes back there and crawled as far back as she could.

Walker asked Yarbrough what she was thinking while she was hiding in the bushes. Yarbrough said she was thinking of her two sons and her daughter. They’re grown now, but she was seeing them as children, she said.

“I didn’t have any thoughts,” she said. “I was just seeing those faces of my children and felt that my body was dying.”

Yarbrough said she still has a scar on her cheek, and because the bullet hit her tongue, her speech is a bit impaired. She has difficulty lifting things, handling buttons and picking things up, she said.

• • •

After lunch, Conwell quizzed Yarbrough over some of what she’d said during Walker’s direct examination, at times lingering on inconsistencies.

For instance, in the morning she had said that the floor plan of May’s apartment was “identical” to the one she’d lived in, but when Conwell presented her with a diagram of May’s apartment, she hesitantly confirmed that it was probably accurate, but said she’d never been down the hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathroom so she didn’t know.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Defense attorney Gary Conwell leans forward while questioning a witness during trial for his client, Tommy May, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

He also asked about a different order of events Sailor had given previously — she had said that Yarbrough was already visiting Jones and Ryan in their apartment when she arrived there. Yarbrough said Sailor must be right and she must have been mistaken, because she didn’t want to say that Sailor was not being truthful.

“I didn’t think I needed to rehearse this,” Yarbrough said. “I guess I should’ve.”

She became more flustered as Conwell inquired about her previous testimony, that day and during a preliminary hearing in the case, as he tried to clarify the exact path she’d taken when she tried to hide from May and as they went back and forth about whether she’d walked, crawled or crouched to get there.

Yarbrough eventually spoke directly to the jurors: “My words may not be exactly right, but I’m not going to lie up here,” she told them.

Conwell, who has chosen to reserve his opening statements until Walker and Deputy District Attorney David Melton rest their case later this week, may have given jurors a peek at his theory of what had occurred. He began to rapidly ask Yarbrough questions, all of which she firmly and incredulously denied: that May wanted nothing to do with her, Jones had given her a gun, she had planned to take the drugs she saw on May’s table, she shot at May and a scuffle ensued, she had lost part of a fake fingernail in that scuffle, and how her head had been against the back door when May held the gun above her.

She said all of that was far-fetched and untrue. There was no scuffle and she never touched May, Yarbrough said.

In one final question, after Walker asked Yarbrough a few follow-ups, Conwell asked how far away May was from her when he shot her. She had told Walker she knew it was May who shot her because he was close — the distance “from me to the judge, maybe,” she had said, indicating perhaps 10 feet away.

In response to Conwell, Yarbrough said she didn’t know how far away May was.

• • •

Jones also testified Tuesday. He considered May a friend, he said. Jones had come outside when he heard the commotion, and he said he saw blood squirting out of Yarbrough’s neck. Jones said he asked May why he shot “Mimi,” Yarbrough’s nickname.

Sailor testified that she saw May shoot Jones in the back while they were both standing in the driveway; Jones, however, said he never saw who shot him.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Deputy Douglas County District Attorney David Melton gives opening arguments during a jury trial for Tommy May on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Jones fell to the ground immediately when he was shot, he said; he lost feeling in his legs and couldn’t move them. He now uses a wheelchair, and it’s not likely that he’ll walk again.

The bullet went into Jones’ left shoulder and was lodged in the right side of the middle of his back, Dr. James Howard, a trauma surgeon with the University of Kansas Health System, testified Tuesday; it stayed there until the day before Thanksgiving, Jones said.

Howard said he couldn’t answer Conwell’s question about the bullet’s trajectory based on the medical record he had. Howard said that he wasn’t a ballistics expert, and that sometimes when bullets hit bones, they can change direction.

Trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It is scheduled to last through Friday but could extend into next week. Other than in Melton’s opening arguments, jurors have yet to hear of the chase on which May allegedly led a Lawrence police officer and then hit him with his car.

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Trial coverage

Dec. 9, 2019: Trial underway, jury selected in Lawrence double shooting, alleged battery of officer

Previous coverage

Aug. 23, 2019: Court denies ‘stand your ground’ self-defense claim in 2018 double shooting in central Lawrence

Oct. 25, 2018: List of charges grows against Lawrence man accused of double shooting, attack on police officer; trial set for April

Oct. 16, 2018: Effects of violence apparent when victims of Lawrence double shooting appear in court

Sept. 6, 2018: Officer won’t face criminal charges for firing at shooting suspect’s vehicle in July

July 16, 2018: Affidavit: Woman shot in face, man paralyzed in double shooting on 25th Street

July 5, 2018: Alleged gunman in West 25th Street double shooting charged with attempted murders

July 3, 2018: Neighbors describe aftermath of double shooting; KBI says officer fired ‘multiple times,’ may have hit suspect

July 2, 2018: 2 people shot in southern Lawrence; suspect and police officer also injured


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