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

After testimony by a series of witnesses he knew from Topeka, Anthony L. Roberts Jr. reacts to a witness he did not know entering the courtroom on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Douglas County District Court. The witness was a resident of Vermont Towers, a senior citizen apartment building near the scene of a triple homicide at 11th and Massachusetts streets.

Updated story

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


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

From left, Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka; and Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka.

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

• 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 17 — Shooting survivor, friend of defendant testify reluctantly

• 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

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

Judge Sally Pokorny confers with defense attorney Shaye Downing, left, and District Attorney Charles Branson during the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Court reporter Mary Kay Howe takes notes in a darkened courtroom during a video presentation in the trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

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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