Witness, evidence issues addressed at pretrial hearing in Massachusetts Street triple murder case

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Anthony L. Roberts Jr. appears in Douglas County District Court on Friday, May 31, 2019, during a hearing prior to his murder trial. One of his attorneys, Joshua Seiden, is pictured at right.

A number of witnesses subpoenaed for the Massachusetts Street triple murder trial are either former co-defendants in the case or people who are in jail for unrelated charges.

None of those witnesses, or other potential witnesses, have been promised anything in exchange for testifying, prosecutors confirmed at a pretrial hearing Friday, after defense attorneys asked that any such deals be disclosed.

“There have not been any deals made regarding testifying in this case,” prosecutor Hannah Wittman said.

A two-week trial for Anthony L. Roberts Jr., 22, of Topeka, is scheduled to begin on June 10. In connection with the 2017 shootings that killed three people and injured two others on Massachusetts Street, Roberts is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder.

At Friday’s hearing attorneys and Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny hashed out questions, largely about whether certain evidence would or wouldn’t be allowed at the upcoming trial.

Among people subpoenaed to testify against Roberts are three of his friends who came to Lawrence with him the night of the crime, were on the corner with him when it happened, and rode out of town with him afterward.

Two of those men were charged with lesser crimes in connection with the brawl and shootings, and they have since entered pleas and have been sentenced.

A few others the state may call to the witness stand are in jail locally or in other states — including a so-called “jailhouse snitch,” a fellow Douglas County Jail inmate who told law enforcement that Roberts, unsolicited, told him details about the crime — according to court filings.

Among the judge’s other orders:

• Neither side will be allowed to bring up evidence of gang affiliation, either by Roberts or anyone else involved. Possible gang ties were mentioned at a preliminary hearing in the case.

• Over objections from defense attorneys, prosecutors will be allowed to show the jury a photo of each of the three slain victims as they appeared in life, to help prove their identity. Roberts’ attorneys had argued such photos could unfairly inflame emotions of jurors.

• Also over objections from defense attorneys, prosecutors will be allowed to show a limited number of photos of those victims’ bodies, though faces are to be obscured.

How many bullets were fired, the direction they came from and where victims were hit is among key evidence in the case.

• No one in the gallery for the trial is allowed to wear supportive clothing, such as items bearing victims’ pictures or names.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny talks with defense attorney Shaye Downing, left, and prosecutor David Melton during a pre-trial hearing for Anthony L. Roberts Jr. on Friday, May 31, 2019. Roberts is charged with murdering three people on Massachusetts Street in 2017.

Appointed defense attorneys Shaye Downing and Joshua Seiden are representing Roberts.

Along with Wittman, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and Deputy DA David Melton are trying the case.

It was about 1:40 a.m. — bar-closing time — on Oct. 1, 2017, when Roberts and his friends got into a confrontation with other Topeka men on the northwest corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets.

A fistfight broke out, then a spray of around 20 gunshots.

The victims who died were Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee; Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, of Topeka; and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, of Topeka. Royelle Hunt and Tahzay Rayton, both of Topeka, were shot but survived. Brown, who’d just left a nearby bar, was the only victim who knew no one involved.

Ahmad M. Rayton, 23, of Topeka, was originally charged with three felonies from the incident but took a plea deal and was convicted of a single count of attempted voluntary manslaughter, for trying to kill a man he shot at but missed. Rayton has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Dominique J. McMillon, 20, of Topeka, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery for hitting a man, sparking the fistfight that turned into shooting. McMillon was sentenced to six months in jail, a length of time he’d already served while awaiting trial in the case.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of attorney Shaye Downing’s name.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


Recent coverage: Downtown Lawrence triple murder trial

• 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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