TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The promise of information in a murder investigation is what's landed two men associated with an East Topeka convenience store in court on assault charges.
The information came to light Thursday during a hearing on whether the same attorney can represent both men.
Monroe Lockhart and Anthony Talbert are accused of breaking into a home last November, beating and burning a woman who lived there and threatening to kill a man who also was there.
Billy Rork is defending the men. Prosecutors say it's a conflict of interest because they hope Talbert will testify against Lockhart. In court Thursday, Shawnee County Assistant DA Todd Hiatt said. Talbert "can go to prison for 41 months or he can talk to us." But, Hiatt added, prosecutors won't try to strike a deal so long as Rork continues representing both men.
Hiatt called Douglas County Sheriff's Detective Chris Thomas to testify about interviews with a third man accused in the assault case, Jacob Barnett.
Thomas says Barnett was arrested in late January while allegedly breaking into a Shawnee County business and told authorities he had information on an ongoing investigation.
Asked by 13 News after his testimony why a Douglas County detective was involved in interviews for a Shawnee County assault case, Thomas replied he was called in because Barnett initially said the information he had was regarding a homicide case from Douglas County. The details on the November assault came about in the course of the discussion.
Thomas would not comment on which homicide case Barnett claimed to have knowledge, but Lockhart was a managing partner and Talbert the manager of Mo's Express Convience Store in Hudson Crossing. The shopping center at SE 15th and Adams was developed by Corey Brown, who was found dead in rural Douglas County in January.
In their motion, prosecutors also made reference to Talbert possibly having information on a homicide investigation. Hiatt declined again Thursday to reveal the specific case.
While a homicide investigation was not discussed in Thursday's motions hearing, Thomas did detail Barnett's account that Lockhart made him join in the November assault, while Talbert served as lookout. Thomas says Barnett told officers that Lockhart was in charge, having Barnett punch the female victim while Lockhart kept a gun pointed at the male in the home.
Thomas said Barnett told authorities the beating was in retaliation because Lockhart believed the victim stole a computer and cigarettes from him.
Thomas said Barnett described his relationship with Lockhart as a business partner. He said Barnett claimed he would clean up around the store in exchange for cigarettes and soda pop, and, later, told officers he had a connection to a methamphetamine seller and Lockhart would bring in customers.
Rork questioned Barnett's statements, saying his story has changed and differs even from the victim's. Rork also had Thomas confirm Barnett did not initially reveal the victim in the assault was his sister-in-law. The information on the alleged meth dealings, Rork said, also didn't come to light until after the first interview. Rork also asked if officers had checked security video from the convenience store to verify if Barnett appeared in any of it to verify his claim that he and Lockhart had a business relationship.
Rork says Lockhart and Talbert have never been asked about the alleged November incident. He there's no conflict with him representing both because they have no information to use against each other.
Judge Mark Braun interviewed Talbert behind closed doors with Rork the only other person present. He'll do the same Friday afternoon with Lockhart. Braun says he will issue his ruling on whether Rork can continue to represent both men sometime next week.
Lockhart remains at the Shawnee County Jail while Talbert is being held in Douglas County. Barnett also is being held outside Shawnee County. Barnett has a trial set for May 29.
While Braun is not allowing photos, video or audio from the hearing, he is allowing reporters to Tweet during the proceedings. Braun is part of a committee studying the impact of new media in covering the courts.