Lawrence man guilty on all counts in double shooting case

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Tommy J. May, of Lawrence, left, listens as the judge reads verdicts of "guilty" on his 10 felony charges on Dec. 19, 2019. Next to him is his defense attorney, Gary Conwell.

Story updated 5:34 p.m. Thursday:

After just short of four hours of deliberations Thursday, a jury convicted Tommy J. May of 10 felony charges.

May, 60, of Lawrence, was accused of shooting and injuring a woman, shooting and paralyzing a man and then fleeing the scene and attempting to run over an officer with his vehicle, among other charges, all within the span of about an hour on July 2, 2018.

As Judge James McCabria read the verdict, May sat quietly with little visible reaction. He tilted his chin down momentarily, but — despite frequent heavy sighs throughout his trial — May did not express any strong emotions.

In closing arguments, Senior Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Alice Walker had reminded the jury of testimony of Marzetta Yarbrough, who suffered when a bullet hit her cheek, traveled down through her shoulder and exited through her back. Yarbrough didn’t know how she escaped and made it out to a hiding spot she found in the bushes, but she did, and she thought she was going to die as she lay there, Walker said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Senior Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Alice Walker gestures toward a PowerPoint during her closing argument in the trial of Tommy J. May on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

She also reminded jurors of how May shot Jeremy Jones, who immediately lost feeling in his legs and fell to the ground. He now uses a wheelchair. And she said May knew Sgt. Robert Neff was in front of his vehicle when he accelerated in his direction.

“He’d tried to take them out; he’d tried to kill them,” Walker said, referring to Yarbrough and Jones. “He wasn’t going to let Sgt. Neff stand in his way.”

May’s defense attorney, Gary Conwell, reiterated his client’s version of events from the witness stand: Yarbrough was shot by accident when May was trying to defend himself because she was trying to rob him of his money and prescription painkillers, Conwell said. She had shot May first, with a gun borrowed from Jones; Conwell said the trajectory of the bullet could not have hit Yarbrough from behind as she’d testified, but rather from above her head, as May had demonstrated for the jury.

Afterward, May saw Jones approaching him aggressively, thought he was holding a gun and tried to shoot him in the shoulder just to stop him from coming toward him when Jones suddenly turned and the bullet hit his back instead, Conwell said. For that charge only, the defendant asked the jury to find May not guilty by reason of self-defense.

May left to try to drive himself to the hospital, Conwell said, and he had no intent of hitting the fire hydrant where his GMC Jimmy got stuck momentarily at 21st and Louisiana streets. He said May didn’t see Neff in front of his vehicle because when May heard gunshots, he ducked below the plane of the dashboard to try to avoid getting hit.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Defense attorney Gary Conwell addresses the jury during his closing argument in the trial of his client Tommy J. May on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

May had Army training, Conwell said, and if he’d wanted to shoot and kill, he could’ve — but that wasn’t his intention.

“If he wanted to murder Marzetta Yarbrough, that would have happened, but that’s not what happened,” Conwell said, noting that the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that May’s shooting of Yarbrough was premeditated in order for the jury to convict May of attempted first-degree murder.

Walker, in rebuttal, said that the witnesses who were present for the shooting had some inconsistencies in their testimonies, but they were all clear on one point: They’d all heard two gunshots, not three, as May had claimed. She said Yarbrough never shot May, and investigators never found a third bullet casing.

No, May didn’t kill the two shooting victims — however, “the evidence has shown you it wasn’t for lack of trying,” Walker said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria reads the jury’s verdict in the trial of Tommy J. May on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

Jurors got the case at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and told the bailiff they’d reached a verdict around 4:15 p.m. One juror had to be dismissed Wednesday because of a personal appointment, so there was no remaining alternate. The trial was initially set to last from Dec. 9 through 13, but attorneys continued presenting evidence Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Altogether, May was convicted of 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 or attempting to elude police while driving recklessly, and interference with law enforcement, plus three counts of criminal damage to property.

May’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 13.

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Trial coverage

Dec. 18, 2019: Evidence wraps in tense Lawrence shooting trial; defendant says officer was never in front of his vehicle

Dec. 17, 2019: Defendant says 1 shooting was accidental and another was in self-defense; friend says he changed his story

Dec. 13, 2019: Jury hears from KBI experts who worked on Lawrence shooting case

Dec. 12, 2019: In trial, Lawrence police sergeant describes getting hit by defendant’s vehicle; jurors hear audio from arrest

Dec. 11, 2019: Detective walks jurors down bloody trail through crime scene photos from Lawrence shooting

Dec. 10, 2019: Lawrence shooting trial intensifies as defense attorney probes victim’s testimony

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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