Mass. Street triple murder defendant: ‘I been shot twice’ in Topeka, came to Lawrence to party without fear of violence

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Demonstrating what he did when a group of men he didn't get along with approached him on Massachusetts Street, Anthony L. Roberts Jr. folds his arms then looks down at his right hip, where he said he was openly carrying his gun that night, during Roberts' trial on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Updated story

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


Story updated 8:41 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2019:

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. said he came to Lawrence to go out downtown, where — unlike his hometown of Topeka — it was safe.

“I know I can come down here, and I ain’t got to worry about getting shot at,” he said. “I ain’t never had an incident down here before.”

At the end of that Saturday night out in fall 2017, five people ended up shot in the middle of Massachusetts Street, and three of them died. Roberts, 22, stands accused of four of those shootings, including all three deadly ones.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. takes the witness stand at his own murder trial on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Roberts took the witness stand at his own trial Thursday in Douglas County District Court. He began describing that day and the street-corner encounter that led up to the shootings in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 2017.

Roberts is slated to finish his testimony Friday. His attorneys said in opening arguments last week that Roberts and his friends were outnumbered and getting “pummeled” by other Topeka men they didn’t get along with when Roberts fired his gun in self-defense. Furthermore, they said, there’s no forensic proof that the fatal bullets were fired by Roberts.

Other 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 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 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

After a “boring” week in Topeka, Roberts said he’d been planning all day to go to Lawrence, where the Granada was featuring rapper Lil Yachty during a dance party event.

Roberts said he started texting friends when he got up that morning and easily got several on board.

Roberts said he also carried his Glock 26 9 mm handgun throughout his day in Topeka — as he always does for “protection” — and brought it to Lawrence, as well.

“I been shot twice,” Roberts said. “In Topeka I’m a known target.”

Roberts said that when he was shot in 2015 and again in 2016 he never contacted law enforcement because he doesn’t trust the police.

“I’m targeted by Topeka Police Department,” he said. “I would never go to them for any reason.”

Roberts said he wanted to leave Topeka “early,” around 10:30 p.m. He was frustrated waiting on friends to shower, iron their clothes or charge their phones and ended up getting on the road late.

Though one of his friends, Dacorey Brown, showed up to go to Lawrence holding his head and bleeding from his face, Roberts said he didn’t know what happened to Brown. Prosecutors and witnesses earlier in the trial said Brown got punched outside the Granada earlier that evening and returned to Lawrence with friends to “settle a score” with the men who did it.

Roberts said that when they got to Lawrence, Brown had blood all over his shirt. Roberts told him he couldn’t walk around downtown looking like that, and Brown and his girlfriend went back to Topeka to get him medical help.

By that time the Granada concert was already letting out, Roberts said. He and the three friends who stayed tried to go to nearby Brothers Bar and Grill but couldn’t get in, and ended up walking up and down the street figuring they’d find some people who knew about an after-party somewhere.

They did encounter people they knew from Topeka — a lot of them.

First they greeted and shook hands with Tahzay Rayton and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, cousins of Roberts’ friend Ahmad M. Rayton.

Then, Roberts said, at the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets, “we seen something that stopped us in our tracks.”

That was about 10 men Roberts and his friends didn’t get along with. Some driving by in a car rolled the windows down and “mugged” them, or looked at them menacingly, Roberts said. They then saw Robert Wheeler and some of his friends walking their way.

Wheeler — who ended up in a fistfight with Roberts’ group before being shot at as he ran away — previously testified that he saw Roberts standing up and waving a gun with an extended magazine at his right side.

Roberts demonstrated for the jury the body language he said he used to alert the other group that he had a gun.

At the front of the courtroom, Roberts stood up, folded both arms over his chest and looked down at his right hip, where he said he was openly carrying his gun in a holster at the time.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Demonstrating what he did when a group of men he didn’t get along with approached him on Massachusetts Street, Anthony L. Roberts Jr. folds his arms then looks down at his right hip, where he said he was openly carrying his gun that night, during Roberts’ trial on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. points to a photo of the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets while testifying at his trial on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

•••

It was about 1:40 a.m. when the fistfight, and then at least 21 gunshots, erupted from the corner.

Bystander Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee, had just left a nearby bar with her best friend and was fatally shot as she crossed Massachusetts Street.

All the others shot were Topeka residents Roberts knew, and who all knew one another.

Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, and Dean-Rayton, 24, also were killed. Royelle Hunt and Tahzay Rayton were shot but survived.

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 murder, for allegedly intentionally killing Henderson; two counts of first-degree felony murder, for allegedly killing Brown and Dean-Rayton while targeting Henderson; and attempted second-degree murder in Tahzay Rayton’s shooting.

Two of Roberts’ friends also were charged in the incident.

Ahmad Rayton was originally charged with shooting Hunt but, following a plea deal, was convicted only of attempted voluntary manslaughter for trying to shoot Wheeler. Dominique J. McMillon, who also got a plea deal, was convicted of misdemeanor battery for punching Wheeler.

•••

Prosecutors rested their case and Roberts’ defense team began its case Wednesday afternoon.

His appointed attorneys, Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden, questioned several Lawrence police detectives and supervisors, attempting to scrape out information about inconsistencies in witness statements and leads law enforcement didn’t pursue.

Those included statements by two women, bystanders who didn’t know anyone involved. Both testified Thursday that they saw a man shooting from the crowded corner but gave differing clothing descriptions, neither of which matched what Roberts or Rayton had on that night.

The defense also pressed detectives about statements men involved made but later changed. Throughout the trial, Roberts’ attorneys have challenged testimony by Wheeler and his friends that no one in their group had guns on Massachusetts Street that night.

In his cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney David Melton emphasized the chaos and crowds surrounding the incident, the magnitude of the investigation resulting in thousands of pages of reports, as well as fear of retaliation expressed by some of the men involved.

Detective M.T. Brown confirmed Melton’s explanation that police “don’t just take witness statements at face value,” but rather seek corroboration or contradiction to determine what to pursue.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Judge Sally Pokorny confers with attorneys during the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Defense attorney Shaye Downing questions a detective during the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Anthony L. Roberts Jr., alongside attorney Joshua Seiden, watches testimony during his trial on Thursday, June 20, 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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