‘Chaos’ and death on Mass Street: Witnesses at trial describe immediate aftermath of triple homicide
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Story updated at 6:31 p.m. Thursday, June 13, 2019:
Silence weighed over the courtroom as a young woman quietly described seeing her best friend crumple to the sidewalk after being shot, then holding her hand as she died on Massachusetts Street.
Next, Courtney Germany said she called Leah Brown’s mother.
“I told her there had been a shooting and that Leah got shot,” Germany said. “She asked me if Leah was dead, and I told her, yeah, I thought so. And then that’s when the EMTs covered her with a blanket.”
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Thursday in Douglas County District Court, Germany was among the first witnesses to testify at the trial of the man accused of killing not only her friend that night but two other people as well.
The trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 22, of Topeka, began Monday with jury selection and is scheduled to last two weeks. Roberts is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder, one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder in the Oct. 1, 2017, incident at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets.
The victims were Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka; and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka. Two other Topeka men, Royelle Hunt and Tahzay Rayton, were shot but survived.
Germany said she and Brown had been out dancing and drinking at Brothers Bar and Grill, 1105 Massachusetts St.
Brown was getting ready to go back to the Navy, following a break she took after completing basic training, Germany said. Germany was planning to go to New York soon.
“We just wanted to hang out before we parted ways,” Germany said.
Instead of the Westport entertainment district in Kansas City, Mo. — which Germany described as “not always the safest place” — the friends picked downtown Lawrence.
They had a good time at Brothers, Germany said. When the bar closed they tumbled onto the street with crowds of other bar-goers and headed north across 11th Street toward their car. When they saw a fight break out on the northwest corner of the intersection, they headed across Massachusetts Street instead to avoid it.
“I saw some men approach each other, they were exchanging words, and a punch was thrown,” Germany said, “and as soon as that happened I got the instinct to get out of there.”
Halfway across the street Germany heard her friend a few steps behind her call out, “Courtney!”
“I looked at her, and she said, ‘I got shot,'” Germany said.
She said Brown “kind of buckled” in the middle of the crosswalk, threw off her purse and phone, then managed to run all the way across Massachusetts Street to the northeast corner, where she fell to the ground bleeding and didn’t say another word.
Germany said she held her friend’s hand and just tried to talk to her until paramedics arrived, checked her pulse and didn’t find one.
photo by: Contributed photos
Germany was not the only person who held a gunshot victim as they died on the pavement that night.
Thursday also featured testimony from the former Lawrence police officer who started to chase a man he saw shooting across the street, then encountered Brown collapsed.
Tyler Haney said his plan to identify and head toward the threat instantly changed to stopping and rendering aid.
He said he snapped on medical gloves and tried to keep Brown’s heart beating to no avail.
“The only thing I could do at that point … was to just be there for her,” Haney said, after a long pause to compose himself. “I was holding her when the life left her body.”
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Across the intersection, at the southwest corner, former Lawrence police officer Michael Shanks pushed his way through a crowd of 30 to 40 people to reach Henderson.
In the middle of the “chaos,” Shanks said he ripped open the young man’s shirt and saw a bullet wound to his chest but that it wasn’t bleeding, making him think the victim’s heart wasn’t beating.
But, Shanks said, he thought he might have felt a pulse or seen a blink. He wasn’t sure if those were signs of life or from the victim being jostled by the push of onlookers — some seemingly trying to help, some apparently hostile but most just trying to get a good shot on their cellphones.
Shanks made a decision he said was “absolutely not” in keeping with usual protocol: an “evac.”
With an OK from his supervisor, he, another officer and a couple of bystanders loaded Henderson into the back of his patrol car and reached the hospital in less than three minutes.
“I felt that he was on the verge of imminent death and that if we didn’t get him to some kind of immediate treatment that he was going to die,” Shanks said. He said he was also worried about officer safety in the crowd.
On the way to the hospital, Shanks said he tried talking to the man in the backseat.
“I called out to him and attempted to try to assure him, ‘Hang on, we’re trying to get to the hospital, hang in there, we’re trying to get you some help,'” he testified.
Shanks said he never got a response.
At the hospital, Shanks said he encountered another chaotic scene, with relatives and friends of victims showing up, along with at least two other gunshot victims arriving.
One of those was Dean-Rayton, who, according to testimony from previous court hearings, fell and had been rendered aid at the northwest corner of the intersection but also did not survive.
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Topeka resident Robert Wheeler said he had been with Henderson, who is his cousin, and other friends at a concert at the Granada. The shootings happened after they left the venue.
Wheeler said he ran to his cousin when he heard he’d been shot.
“He was just looking up to the sky, lying on his back. I grabbed his hand,” Wheeler said. “He told me that it hurts really bad and that he loves me, and I told him to quit talking — just fight.”
Wheeler said he was one of the people who helped police hoist Henderson into the patrol car, then headed to the hospital.
But Wheeler also was in the middle of the fight that sparked the shooting minutes earlier, and knew almost everyone involved. His account of what he saw and the sequence of events is a key part of why Roberts is charged with the crimes he is.
Wheeler did not finish his testimony Thursday and was expected to return to the witness stand for more questioning Friday morning.
In their cross-examination Thursday, Roberts’ appointed defense attorneys emphasized the chaos of the scene and the possibility of evidence being moved in the fracas.
Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden — who said in opening arguments that Roberts fired in defense of himself and his friends after being physically attacked — also pressed witnesses about who confronted whom and whether anyone else involved was carrying guns.
Wheeler said he saw Roberts and two of his friends pull guns, but no one else.
Haney and a second police officer stationed in an empty parking lot across the street when gunfire erupted on the northwest corner said they saw one man with a gun.
Haney and Sgt. Michael McLaren testified they heard a string of about 12 to 15 shots, stepped forward to get a better view, then saw a man in a green shirt stand up by the planter and fire a few more shots. Dashcam video from McLaren’s patrol car reflected their accounts.
Prosecutors allege that Roberts fired the first stream of shots — hitting four people, three fatally — then ran. They allege the second shooter in the green shirt was Roberts’ friend and co-defendant Ahmad M. Rayton, and that his bullets injured a fifth person but not fatally.
Rayton and another Topeka man, Dominique J. McMillon, were charged with less severe crimes in the incident. They have since entered pleas and been sentenced.