Shooting survivor, friend of defendant testify reluctantly at downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. listens to a witness describe being shot and then trying to help his fatally wounded cousin on Massachusetts Street in 2017, during Roberts' murder trial on Monday, June 17, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Updated story

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


Story updated at 6:54 p.m. Monday, June 17:

Two reticent witnesses testified Monday morning at the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr.

One of the witnesses was facing the man who allegedly shot him twice and fatally shot his cousin, to whom he crawled after the shooting but found lifeless on the sidewalk.

The other witness was testifying against a relative who is facing three murder charges and one attempted murder charge.

The trial of Roberts, 22, of Topeka, began last week and is scheduled to last through this week in Douglas County District Court.

He’s accused of killing Leah Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka; and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka; and of shooting Tahzay Rayton, of Topeka.

A fifth man, Royelle Hunt, of Topeka, also was shot in the incident, a fistfight that escalated into gunfire about 1:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2017, at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets in downtown Lawrence. Brown was the only victim who didn’t know anyone else involved.

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.

• • •

Shooting victim Tahzay Rayton, 21, said he came to Lawrence with his cousin Dean-Rayton and another man.

They were going to the Granada but didn’t actually plan on going inside to that night’s concert, he said. They just wanted to socialize and look at girls.

On the northwest corner of the intersection they ran into Robert Wheeler, whom Rayton recognized from Topeka, and shook his hand. Rayton said he was in the crosswalk when he saw the fight on the corner then heard gunshots.

“I got shot,” Rayton said. “I fell, I hit the ground, and I scooted across the street.”

Rayton had suffered what an emergency room doctor testified appeared to be two through-and-through bullet wounds to his left hip area, including one that broke his pelvis.

Rayton made his way to his cousin Dean-Rayton on the corner. As Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson pressed him to describe Dean-Rayton’s condition, Rayton bowed his head and covered his face with his hand. After a short break, Rayton told the court that he rolled his bleeding cousin over but found him already unresponsive.

Rayton testified that he knows Roberts and the friends Roberts was with that night, according to other evidence. But when asked if he ever saw any of them in that area that night, Rayton answered, “I don’t recall.”

Rayton said he wasn’t legally allowed to have a gun at that time, and did not have one. He said his cousin Dean-Rayton wasn’t carrying one, either.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Lawrence police officer Matthew Roberts points on an aerial photo to the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets where he gave CPR to shooting victim Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, during the trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Friday, June 14, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

• • •

Marvel Miller, 21, of Topeka, testified that he is a “relative” of Roberts.

When asked if he saw Roberts that evening with a gun, Miller answered, “mmmm,” “mmmhmm,” and, eventually, when a yes or no answer was demanded, “yes.” Prosecutors showed the jury a photo taken earlier that night at a Topeka apartment complex showing Miller and Roberts, with Roberts holding what appears to be a gun, Miller confirmed.

Miller said that he and another man drove to Lawrence behind Roberts and two other Topeka friends, Ahmad M. Rayton and Dominique J. McMillon, both of whom were charged with lesser crimes from the incident and have since pleaded and been sentenced.

More coverage from trial

• 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 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

In downtown Lawrence, Miller said he, Roberts, Rayton and McMillon were “just hanging out … on the strip.”

Miller said he saw Wheeler coming toward the corner and feared trouble.

“We had problems in the past,” Miller said. “I had a personal problem (with Wheeler).”

According to a police report referenced by Branson, Miller told detectives after the incident that Roberts and Wheeler weren’t “cool,” either.

Miller said that Wheeler’s approach was not friendly.

“In some form he said (insulting expletives),” Miller said. “I think he was just trying to express to the whole group what he feel like we are.”

Miller said he didn’t see McMillon punch Wheeler first, as Wheeler testified last week, but saw Wheeler punch McMillon. Miller said he then heard gunshots, backed up, and ran.

Miller testified at a preliminary hearing in the case that he did see Roberts shooting.

When asked Monday in court whether he’d seen Roberts shooting, Miller shifted in his chair and looked to the side.

“No,” he said.

Branson showed Miller a police report indicating he told detectives otherwise, then asked him whether he told detectives that he saw Roberts shooting.

“I might have,” Miller said.

Miller said he didn’t see Roberts flashing a gun downtown, and also didn’t see a gun on Wheeler or any of his friends as they approached.

Asked by defense attorney Joshua Seiden whether he was afraid of retaliation after the incident, Miller said, “in some kind of way I was.”

Branson asked Miller, “being here today puts you in an awkward spot, doesn’t it?”

Miller answered, “Yes, sir.”

• • •

Also on Monday, Lawrence police officers began to describe ballistics evidence they found at the scene.

Former Lawrence police officer Brett Schneider said that after backing up the officer tending to Brown — first trying to keep crowds back, then guarding her body after she was pronounced dead — he followed supervisors’ orders to begin collecting evidence.

The process was hurried, because a rainstorm was moving in, Schneider said.

“I had to move fast,” he said. “It was starting to sprinkle.”

While he and fellow officers didn’t take photos documenting each casing in the exact location it lay on the ground, Schneider said he gathered a dozen 9 mm shell casings from the sidewalk just south of the Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.

He said that cluster of casings was not intermingled with a second cluster of four .40-caliber casings he also picked up several feet to the west.

Prosecutors say that Roberts was on the south side of the museum when he fired about a dozen shots eastward toward Massachusetts Street, using a Glock 26 9 mm handgun with an extended magazine. Roberts’ bullets are the ones that hit all three deceased victims plus Tahzay Rayton, the charges against Roberts allege.

Roberts’ friend Ahmad Rayton was closer to the intersection when moments later he fired a handful of .40-caliber bullets, hitting Royelle Hunt and nearly hitting Wheeler, prosecutors alleged. Rayton, in a plea deal, was ultimately convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter for trying to shoot Wheeler.

Lawrence police detective Larry Hamilton, asked by the defense, said lab testing found Rayton’s DNA on two of the .40-caliber casings but did not confirm Roberts’ DNA on any of the casings tested. Kansas Bureau of Investigation technicians have yet to testify.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Lawrence police Detective Larry Hamilton testifies while holding an evidence bag containing bullet fragments recovered from the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets, during the trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Monday, June 17, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Hamilton said that in addition to the shell casings, police found numerous bullet fragments and bullet “defects” — holes or marks where bullets struck stationary objects — on the corner.

Hamilton showed photos depicting tiny, jagged and twisted chunks of copper- and silver-colored metal on the museum steps, nearby sidewalk and parking spaces.

He also showed photos of marred spots on a tree in the corner planter, the sides of the planter, the museum steps and the sidewalk. Some were round indicating a bullet hit straight-on and others were elongated indicating the bullet brushed the surface, Hamilton said.

When challenged by defense attorney Seiden about whether anything other than gunfire could have caused those defects, Hamilton answered, “I don’t think so.”

During Hamilton’s testimony, jurors also saw photos of the body of Brown where she fell and died on the northeast corner of the intersection — the direction of bullets prosecutors say Roberts fired from across the street.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


Previous 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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