Jury deliberating intentional murder versus self-defense in Mass. Street triple murder case

photo by: Mike Yoder

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. passes by a photograph showing the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets during closing arguments for his trial in Douglas County District Court on Monday, June 24, 2019.

Updated story

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

Story updated at 5:48 p.m. Monday, June 24:

Jurors on Monday began weighing whether a young Topeka man committed murder when he opened fire on Massachusetts Street.

Following two weeks of jury selection and testimony in the trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 22, in Douglas County District Court, attorneys delivered closing arguments Monday and jurors took over the case about 1:30 p.m. They deliberated until 5 p.m. and planned to continue Tuesday morning.

About 1:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2017, at the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets, members of two groups of Topeka men who didn’t get along started throwing punches.

Then gunfire erupted.

In a matter of seconds, five people were hit. In a matter of minutes, three of those people — with bullet wounds straight through their chests — died.

Other testimony from trial

• 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 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

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and his team say Roberts intentionally murdered one man and, in the process, killed two unintended targets and wounded a third.

“The man who caused all that death and injury is sitting right there,” Branson said during his closing arguments, extending his arm and pointing at Roberts seated a few feet away.

“The defendant’s asking you to excuse his actions as self-defense … the evidence will prove that there was no self-defense in this case. This was just plain and simple murder.”

Roberts is charged with second-degree murder, for allegedly intentionally killing Colwin L. Henderson III, 20, of Topeka.

He’s charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder, for allegedly killing Leah E. Brown, 22, of Shawnee, and Tre’Mel D. Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka, as he was firing at Henderson.

Roberts also is charged with attempted second-degree murder, for allegedly shooting another Topeka man, Tahzay Rayton, twice.

Judge Sally Pokorny instructed jurors that if they don’t find Roberts guilty as charged in the death of Henderson and wounding of Rayton, there are a number of lesser offenses they could convict him of. For Henderson, those were several categories of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. For Rayton, they were various categories of manslaughter and aggravated battery.

The judge gave no so-called lesser-included offenses as options in lieu of Roberts’ first-degree murder charges.

Branson said Roberts came to Lawrence packing a gun and looking to “settle a score.”

The prosecution’s summary of the case emphasized a friend of Roberts who’d gotten beaten up earlier that evening outside the Granada. Branson said evidence showed that man went back to Topeka, returned with Roberts and his friends, who then instigated a fight with associates of the man who bloodied the friend’s nose.

Dashcam video from a police patrol vehicle parked across the street, along with other public camera views, showed victims falling at the same times that Roberts was shooting, Branson emphasized. He said video showed Henderson stooped over and apparently punching someone when Roberts shot him — in the back — from afar.

Branson also reiterated that all 15 9 mm shell casings left behind on the corner were fired by Roberts’ Glock 26, forensic testing showed.

“Not just one shot. Not just two shots. Not three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, but 15 shots at that corner,” Branson said. “15 shots — what was he intending when he fired 15 shots?”

Roberts’ appointed attorneys, Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden, said Roberts was legally openly carrying a gun with an extended magazine downtown that night — but that doesn’t show he intended to kill anyone.

Nor was he required by Kansas law to retreat or wait until someone else shot at him first, they said.

“He had every reason to believe that he was in danger of being hurt, of great bodily harm, or death,” Downing said in her closing arguments. “He is permitted to use force against another person even if it’s likely to cause death or great bodily harm, in certain circumstances.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Defense attorney Shaye Downing makes closing arguments to the jury in Douglas County District Court on Monday, June 24, 2019, during the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr.

Roberts previously told the jury that he’d planned all day to come to Lawrence to party, not to get revenge. He said he always carried his handgun, with no exceptions. He said men in the other group outnumbered and starting punching him and his friends first. Although no one else testified seeing guns on anyone but Roberts and his friends, Roberts said he saw one of the opposing group members with a gun in his hand and feared he would be shot.

Roberts’ attorneys said a key witness who was punched and shot at during the incident changed parts of his story several times over the course of the investigation and courtroom testimony.

Further, they added, forensic testing of guns, shell casings, a bullet and fragments from the scene failed to prove any of the victims were shot by Roberts.

Roberts’ defense team also accused the Lawrence Police Department of tunnel vision rather than thoroughly investigating leads that didn’t support their initial theory of the case.

“Not only was it a rush to judgment, but it was full steam ahead no matter what happened,” Downing said. “The only leads pursued … were those meant to bolster the state’s theory.”

Branson rebutted that the investigation was thorough and that the leads detectives pursued were those — out of hundreds — that were corroborated by other evidence.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson makes closing arguments to the jury in Douglas County District Court on Monday, June 24, 2019, during the murder trial of Anthony L. Roberts Jr.

Two of Roberts’ friends were charged with less severe crimes in the incident. Ahmad M. Rayton and Dominique J. McMillon, both of Topeka, entered pleas and have been convicted.

Prosecutors have said that Rayton was the second and only other man shooting at the scene, and that six .40-caliber shell casings left behind all were fired from the same gun, fired by Rayton.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd

Other 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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