2 Lawrence men enter no contest pleas in 2021 fatal shooting

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Javier Isidro Romero, left, and Andrel Darnell Spates Jr.

Two men were scheduled for trial later this month in connection with a 2021 fatal shooting in Lawrence, but they instead pleaded no contest to lesser charges on Tuesday in Douglas County District Court.

The men, Javier Isidro Romero, 20, and Andrel Darnell Spates Jr., 21, both of Lawrence, were each originally charged with one count of murder in the first degree in connection with the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Christian Willis, of Wichita, on Sept. 8, 2021, in the 1500 block of Kentucky Street. Additionally, both men were charged with felony distribution of marijuana, and Spates was charged with felony possession of a firearm.

According to a news release on Tuesday from the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, the men entered pleas to lesser charges. Spates pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and faces between 55 and 247 months in prison, 4.5 to 20.5 years, depending on his criminal history. Romero pleaded no contest to murder in the second degree and faces 109 months to 493 months in prison, or 9 to 41 years, depending on his criminal history. The men were scheduled on Tuesday for a pre-trial conference and were set to go to trial on Jan. 23 for the first-degree murder charges.

In court filings from 2021, Spates argued that he shot Willis to defend Romero after Willis pulled a gun on Romero while Romero was selling Willis some marijuana, as the Journal-World reported. The state rejected Spates’ argument for self-defense and said that a person cannot claim self-defense while in commission of a felony such as a drug sale. In a recent filing, the state alleged that all three men, Romero, Spates and Willis, fired guns during the incident.

At Spates’ preliminary hearing in March of 2022, Romero’s then-girlfriend, Caylee Nehrbass, testified that she and Spates were on a third-story balcony of Spates’ apartment complex watching the marijuana sale take place from above. She said she saw Willis pull out a gun and put it to Romero’s stomach. Then, she said, she saw Romero and Willis wrestle for the gun before she heard Spates, who was next to her, fire his gun down at Willis. She then saw Romero running up the stairs, and the three of them fled the scene.

A neighbor on the scene after the shooting described at that hearing seeing Willis lying on the ground and gasping for breath before police arrived. He said he also saw another man approach Willis’ body and take a “gangster roll” of money from Willis’ pocket and two guns — one that was in Willis’ hand and another that was on the hood of a nearby car. That man then got in a car and drove away, the neighbor said. No one else has been charged in the case.

Spates is scheduled to be sentenced on April 10, and Romero is scheduled to be sentenced on March 25.


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