Witness at Lawrence triple murder trial says defendant told her, ‘I shot Colwin’
Police compiled public video footage to help identify murder suspect
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Story updated at 7:07 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, 2019:
After the triple homicide on Massachusetts Street, Anthony L. Roberts Jr. confessed to a cousin that he shot one of the victims, the cousin told a jury Tuesday in Douglas County District Court.
Roberts told her he did not shoot the other two people who died, the cousin testified.
The three people fatally shot about 1:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2017, at 11th and Massachusetts streets were Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka; Leah Brown, 22, of Shawnee; and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka.
“What my cousin told me was, ‘I shot Colwin. I didn’t shoot the girl, I didn’t shoot ‘Mel, and I put my gun away when he (Henderson) fell,” Kayla Hugghis said.
However, Roberts, 20, of Topeka, is on trial for all three alleged murders. Charges against him contend that he did, in fact, catch Brown and Dean-Rayton in his crossfire as he was purposely trying to kill Henderson.
photo by: Contributed photos
Roberts is charged with second-degree intentional murder in Henderson’s death, and two counts of first-degree felony murder in the deaths of Brown and Dean-Rayton. He’s also charged with attempted second-degree murder for allegedly shooting another Topeka man who survived, Tahzay Rayton.
More coverage from trial
Hugghis didn’t want to testify against her cousin, and she expressed that in sharp responses to Deputy District Attorney David Melton.
“Yes, I received a subpoena — I wish I wouldn’t have opened my front door,” she said. “It’s not my job to help y’all do y’all’s job.”
Hugghis said Roberts was staying at her home in Topeka at the time of the incident, and that they talked in her living room about what happened.
She testified that she did not intend to help authorities prosecute him. She said she shared with police social media photos and posts to help show others were responsible for the incident. She later spoke with detectives.
In court Tuesday, Hugghis said Roberts told her there was a fight before the shooting started and that he didn’t feel comfortable.
“He felt like he was fighting for his life,” she said.
She also said that Roberts regularly carried a gun for “protection” and that she did, too. In the Topeka neighborhood where they lived, she said, “everyone needs a gun — you never know what’s going to happen.”
Lawrence Police Detective Lance Flachsbarth said that Hugghis first called the department close to a month after the incident.
He said he, in a marked police vest and badge, and another detective later met her in Topeka to talk more. Hugghis told them Roberts said he’d shot Henderson but not the others, Flachsbarth said. At that time she didn’t say anything about Roberts acting in self-defense.
When Melton asked whether Hugghis told detectives she “had to be careful how she said things because she didn’t want to help you or the prosecution,” Flachsbarth answered yes.
Other witnesses Tuesday referenced a separate-but-related fight hours before the shootings, which prosecutors have pointed to as a reason Roberts and his friends may have come to Lawrence that night for payback.
Toiyonte Hunt, shackled and in jail garb from an unrelated matter in Missouri, said he was at a concert at the Granada with a group of eight or so friends from Topeka — including homicide victim Henderson and Hunt’s brother Royelle Hunt, the fifth person who was shot that night.
Around 10 p.m. while outside getting tickets, one of Toiyonte Hunt’s friends fought with Topekan Dacorey Brown, who’s friends with Roberts and his group. Hunt said Dacorey Brown was the one who ended up on the ground, then left.
Hunt didn’t see Roberts until a couple hours later, after the Granada concert let out.
He said Roberts and his friends were “posted up” outside the Watkins Museum of History, at the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts. Hunt said he did not “recall” seeing a gun with an extended magazine on Roberts but admitted that he previously told authorities he saw one.
Hunt said neither he nor any of his friends at the concert had a gun that night.
After the two groups mingled on the corner by the museum, Hunt said Roberts’ friend Dominique J. McMillon punched his friend Robert Wheeler first. Roberts’ other friend Ahmad M. Rayton jumped in the fight, and Hunt punched him.
Hunt said gunshots started flying while Ahmad Rayton was still on the ground reaching for his pants pocket but that he didn’t see who was firing.
Hunt said he took off running and came back to see his brother “limping up the street” after having been shot through the leg.
The injured Dacorey Brown returned to Topeka after being punched in the face on Massachusetts Street, according to previous testimony.
There he met up with Roberts’ group, and they came to Lawrence in two cars and parked at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vermont St., a senior apartment building about a block and a half from the Granada.
Roberts’ friend Marvel Miller previously testified that Dacorey Brown then left while he, Roberts, Ahmad Rayton and McMillon headed for Massachusetts Street.
Vermont Towers resident Eugene Vermillion, white-haired and -bearded, steadied himself on a knotted-wood cane as he made his way to the witness stand Tuesday.
He said he’d woken up around 1 a.m. and gone outside to smoke and let out his dog.
He was sitting on a bench when he saw a dark SUV pull into the parking lot. He said he saw five men, who he thought got out of the same vehicle, one who had a bloody nose and was holding a cloth to his face.
Vermillion said the first four men walked off together, and the injured man stayed back.
“I smoked my pipe for about 10 minutes and then went back inside,” Vermillion said.
About noon the next day, Dacorey Brown showed up at Topeka’s Stormont Vail Hospital because his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. He told one hospital staffer that he was “playing around” and got hit in the face with a bat but denied being assaulted, according to medical records presented by a hospital representative. He told another nurse he’d gotten punched in the face.
Also on Tuesday, Lawrence Police Detective Dean Brown presented a compilation of video footage the department used to place Roberts at the scene of the crime.
Outdoor surveillance cameras showed the suspects getting out of a dark SUV at Vermont Towers, then running back to the vehicle after the shootings.
Dashcam video from a police patrol car parked across the street from the shootings shows muzzle flashes, one suspect shooting, victims falling and numerous witnesses’ movements before and after.
Another officer’s dashcam video shows a dark SUV leaving Vermont Towers with a distinctive loose license plate, like Roberts’ black SUV that yet another officer pulled over on the west edge of town about 10 minutes later.
While footage from the scene isn’t large or light enough to see any faces, dashcam video of that car stop is clear. It shows Roberts, Ahmad Rayton, McMillon and Miller being frisked and identified by their driver’s licenses. Dean Brown said the men’s clothing was consistent with outfits of suspects seen in videos of the shooting.
When Roberts was pulled over, police didn’t yet have suspect descriptions from the downtown shooting. He and his group complied with the stop, claimed they hadn’t been downtown and were released. Except for Miller, they were arrested in the following weeks.
Ahmad Rayton and McMillon were both charged with lesser crimes in connection with the incident on Massachusetts, have pleaded and been sentenced.
Roberts’ trial, which began last week, is scheduled to last through this week in Judge Sally Pokorny’s courtroom.
photo by: Sara Shepherd
photo by: Sara Shepherd