‘Mean-mugging’ leads to shooting, death of woman in her nearby yard, witnesses testify

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 5:55 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Shots exchanged between occupants of two cars in a west Topeka convenience store parking lot failed to wound anyone in either car, evidence showed Friday during a preliminary hearing in Shawnee County District Court.

But Topeka police officers followed the trail of shell casings in the 1100 block of S.W. Gage, which led police to the body of a woman in her residence yard.

The testimony was made during the preliminary hearing Friday of Tony Reece Donte Baird, 29, who initially was charged with premeditated first-degree murder, felony first-degree murder, criminal discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle resulting in great bodily harm, and aggravated assault, according to court records.

Following the preliminary hearing, Baird was bound over on one count each of felony first-degree murder of Ross, criminal discharge of a firearm, and aggravated assault.

On February 26, prosecution and defense attorneys will submit arguments to the judge on whether Baird should also face the premeditated first-degree murder count.

The attorneys will argue whether a defendant who fired a bullet that kills a person who wasn’t the intended target can face the premeditated first-degree murder count.

District Court Judge William Ossmann will decide that question.

During the preliminary hearing, Topeka police officer Christian Harsha testified he was dispatched to a report of gunshots in the area of the Valero convenience store at 1161 S.W. Gage.

The report of shots fired was made at 11:15 p.m. on August 5, and Harsha found 15 shell casings in the store parking lot.

“We decided the bullets must have gone somewhere,” Harsha said, and officers continued searching further east of Gage and found more 10mm shell casings on Gage.

Harsha spotted the body of a woman identified as Jerrie L. Ross, 62, lying in her back yard at 1190 S.W. Gage.

Ross was lying in a large puddle of blood and was across the street from the convenience store, Harsha said.

Ross didn’t have a pulse, and she had a gunshot wound through her neck and out the back of her head, Harsha said.

Another witness, Francine Brown, was scratching a lottery ticket she bought at Valero to celebrate her 18th birthday when she heard gunshots, Brown testified.

The gunman was at the northwest corner of the store.

Brown saw him going forward, then he crouched and fired shots, before returning to his vehicle to leave the convenience store, Brown testified.

Brown roughly estimated 15 shots were fired, and she saw only one gunman, she testified.

More shell casings were found on Gage.

Jaiden Preyer, 19, drove her red car to the store to get ice and snacks. Also in her car were four young men who were friends. Preyer parked next to a gas pump, and Baird arrived in a black Tahoe at the convenience store and parked on the north side of the business.

The Tahoe occupant stared at Preyer’s car and occupants, making them uncomfortable, Preyer said. The Tahoe driver was “mean-mugging” them, she said.

Two men in Preyer’s car pulled handguns. Defense attorney Tarak Alexander Kevkota asked Preyer why they armed themselves.

“That’s the way they grew up,” Preyer said.

Preyer drove from the lot.

Convenience store video surveillance cameras showed the SUV’s driver pulled a gun and fired at the red car, Topeka police officer Adam Kary testified.

The video showed the SUV driver exited the vehicle, walked, then ran across the lot, crouched, aimed a pistol, and fired a series of shots at the red car, which was driving south on Gage, Kary testified. The video was displayed on Friday.

Police recovered another 24 shell casings from 9mm and 40-caliber firearms on Gage, police officer Kenneth Lawler testified.

Detective Ryan Hayden, the lead investigator, said evidence showed Baird fired first, and the youths in the red car were fired back in self-defense.

Video surveillance seemed to show the occupant of the Tahoe fired first, Hayden testified.

Witness statements led Hayden to believe that Baird was the first to fire, Hayden said.

Did Baird intentionally and premeditatedly shoot Ross? Devkota asked Hayden.

Hayden said he couldn’t say what Baird’s intent was.

A trial date hasn’t been scheduled in the case.

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