Judge: No new trial for Tommy May, convicted in 2018 double shooting that injured 2 in Lawrence
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
A judge on Monday denied motions seeking a new trial for Tommy J. May, convicted almost a year ago in connection with a July 2018 double shooting in Lawrence that injured a woman and paralyzed a man, among other offenses.
A jury found on Dec. 19, 2019, that May, 61, had shot a woman in the face, shot a man in the back, fled the scene of the apartment fourplex in the 700 block of West 25th Street, where May and the man were neighbors, attempted to run over a Lawrence police sergeant who pursued him, caused criminal damage to property with his vehicle and attempted to flee on foot. All of the events transpired over the course of about an hour on the evening of July 2, 2018, and May was taken into custody near 23rd and Louisiana streets the same night.
Altogether, the jury convicted May of attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, aggravated battery against a law enforcement officer, possession of methamphetamine, criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, fleeing or attempting to elude police, interference with law enforcement and three counts of criminal damage to property. All 10 counts were charged as felonies.
May’s attorney during his trial, Gary Conwell, filed a motion for a new trial in February 2020; May then filed his own handwritten motions, and Conwell withdrew from the case. Carol Cline was appointed to represent May for the post-trial proceedings, and during a hearing on Nov. 10, she called witnesses to testify in support of an amended motion for a new trial that she had filed.
Most of the motions focused on the two attempted murder charges and the circumstances surrounding them. As Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria noted Monday, much “unequivocally overwhelming” evidence supporting the remaining charges was captured in police audio and video recordings.
Before the trial began, McCabria had granted a motion from the state to prevent May and his attorney from talking about May’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, which prosecutors argued would prejudice the jury and was not relevant to the case.
May argued in his motion that because of that ruling, he had not been allowed to fully present his defense, which was that the woman, Marzetta Yarbrough, had pulled a gun and attempted to rob him of prescription medications related to his cancer. May said that in the scuffle, the gun went off and Yarbrough was shot in the face.
McCabria said Monday that he had reviewed the trial transcripts, and once he heard more about May’s reasoning for discussing his cancer as part of his defense, McCabria had allowed him to talk about his condition to support his version of events. Therefore, that was not an issue that prejudiced May’s right to a fair trial, the judge ruled.
May had also raised concerns of prosecutorial errors during the trial. One error, he said, was that the state had not been candid about giving leniency to another inmate at the Douglas County Jail in exchange for his testimony, which contradicted virtually all of May’s testimony in his own defense.
May had testified that when he stepped outside of his apartment, he thought he saw the man, Jeremy Jones, charging toward him with a gun — “I better shoot first; that’s what ran through my mind,” May said.
Michael Jordan, a former friend of May’s, testified at the trial that May had changed his story about the shooting, the Journal-World reported. Jordan testified that in December 2018, May told him that he had shot Yarbrough because May thought she was stealing drugs from him. Jordan said May told him he then shot Jones because of a past incident where May believed Jones had stolen $200 from him and Jordan.
However, Jordan testified that when he saw May again, in jail in June 2019, May gave a different version of events, alleging that Yarbrough was the one with the gun and was the one who shot him. Jordan said the second version was “totally different,” and that May had “spun the whole story.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Debby Moody was prosecuting Jordan in a drug possession case. She testified Nov. 10 that she had not made any promises to Jordan ahead of his testimony in May’s case. However, after Jordan testified in May’s trial, Moody said, she reduced Jordan’s drug felony charge to a misdemeanor paraphernalia charge because he had volunteered information in May’s case.
Jordan could have faced up to 42 months in prison for the charge; he was instead released on time served, or 91 days. McCabria ruled that even though Jordan did receive a “very favorable” outcome in his case, the evidence showed that there was no deal, discussion or offer ahead of May’s trial to incentivize Jordan’s testimony.
Another witness testified earlier this month that Jones had told him that the incident was a robbery gone wrong, in line with what May had said in his own defense. McCabria, however, said that witness “did not present as credible” to the court.
May, who had at times verbally expressed frustration during his trial, was quiet as McCabria pronounced his ruling Monday. Asked whether he preferred his sentencing hearing be held in person or via videoconference, May said “It really doesn’t matter, judge.”
May is scheduled to be sentenced Monday, Dec. 14. Depending on his criminal history, he could face more than 50 years in prison for the attempted first-degree murder count alone.
May has remained in custody on $500,000 cash or surety bond from the time of his initial arrest on July 2, 2018, and his bond was revoked following his conviction, according to Douglas County Jail records.
Contact Mackenzie Clark
Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:
Trial, post-trial coverage
• Dec. 19, 2019: Lawrence man guilty on all counts in double shooting case
• Dec. 13, 2019: Jury hears from KBI experts who worked on Lawrence shooting case