Trial underway for Topeka man accused in Lawrence triple homicide

Defendant Anthony Laron Roberts Jr. and his two defense attorneys sit in Douglas Co. District Court Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Roberts is on trial for an October 2017shooting that killed three people. (Steve Fry / WIBW)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) -- A prosecutor and a defense attorney pointed to opposing parties as the instigators to a fist fight that exploded into late-night gunfire on a crowded downtown Lawrence street.

Their comments came in opening statements for the trial of Anthony Roberts Jr., 22.

Prosecutors said Roberts was the gunman in one group who used a pistol to fire a barrage of 15 shots, that killed three people. A defense attorney insisted a group, which included two of the victims, provoked the fatal shots.

Roberts, of Topeka, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, and Tre'Mel Dupree Dean-Rayton, 24, both of Topeka; one count of second-degree murder in the death of Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee; and one count of attempted second-degree murder of Tahzay Rayton.

The shootings were the result of a fight on Oct. 1, 2017, at about 1:40 a.m.

During opening statements, Douglas Co. Chief Assistant District Attorney David Melton used a large aerial photograph of the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts Streets, including the surrounding buildings to illustrate the shootings.

Melton said Henderson had attended a concert at the Granada Theater on Mass St., then called a friend who came to Lawrence, where they talked, danced and had a good time. Dean-Rayton also came.

Brown, who was preparing to enter the U.S. Navy, and a friend had parked their car in a lot on the intersection's northeast corner.

Referring to the intersection, Melton said, "That's where they were shot dead, murdered by this defendant, Anthony Roberts Jr. Roberts and three friends came to Lawrence to settle a score with Henderson and Robert Wheeler."

Melton said Dominique McMillon, a member of Roberts' group, started a fight in front of a museum on the intersection's northwest corner, then gunfire erupted.

Roberts' shooting was so rapid and so wild that he shot Henderson, Dean-Rayton and Brown, Melton said.

Melton said Roberts was armed with a 9mm pistol with an extended magazine and fired a series of 15 gunshots before he ran westbound on 11th Street.

Brown was crossing a street when she was shot and called out to a friend.

"I got shot," Melton quoted Brown as telling her friend. She staggered across the street and collapsed, where her friend, Courtney, aided her.

"As Courtney held her hand and talked to her, Leah (Brown) died," Melton said.

A second gunman fired shots at Wheeler, who tried to help Brown, Melton said, and Wheeler heard bullets going past his head. Gunfire wounded Henderson and Dean-Rayton.

When the gunfire erupted, two police officers were in the parking lot and saw a second gunman firing his pistol.

At one point, other people in the intersection were hostile to a police officer trying to help Henderson, Melton said. As people tried to shoot video of the wounded Henderson, they bumped into him and kicked him, Melton said.

Police and two bystanders loaded Henderson into a car and a police officer drove him to a hospital, where he died, Melton said.

At one point, a police officer stopped a car driven by Roberts and containing other passengers. Roberts, who was carrying a 9mm pistol, told the officer he had attended a relative's birthday party, Melton said, but at that point, police didn't have the names or descriptions of people involved in the shootings at 11th and Massachusetts, and police had to release Roberts and the weapon.

When arrested on Oct. 18, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo., Roberts told police he had been at a birthday party, and he was "2,000 percent sure he wasn't in downtown (Lawrence) that night," Melton said.

Melton told jurors they would see 150 pieces of evidence and would see video clips of the shootings at the intersection and the car stop of Roberts' vehicle. He also said the would hear testimony from witnesses at the shooting scenes and testimony about firearms ballistics, autopsies and other evidence.

Joshua Seiden, one of two defense attorneys representing Roberts, said none of the evidence would tie Roberts to the fatal shootings.

Another man, not Roberts, "initiated this fatal incident," Seiden said.

On the night of the killings, Roberts and several friends had planned to go to downtown Lawrence for a good time, Seiden said. He told jurors Roberts and his friends lived in an unsafe area in Topeka and they traveled to Lawrence to avoid danger.

Roberts carried a gun for self defense, Seiden said.

In relaying the defense's version of what unfolded, Seiden told jurors a friend of one of the victims flashed open his jacket as though to show a gun. He said Roberts saw guns being drawn, and reacted by pulling his own piston and firing.

"As you see and hear the evidence in this case, keep an open mind," Seiden said. "Don't rush to judgment."

During hearings before the trial, defense attorneys suggested that Roberts acted in self defense.

A jury of 16 people were chosen on the third day of trial, then opening statements were made. Of the 16 jurors, four will be alternates to fill vacancies due to illness or emergencies.

District Court Judge Sally Pokorny is handling the trial of Roberts, which is expected to last as long as two weeks.

Roberts is the third of three defendants remaining in the 2017 shootings.

On May 8, defendant Ahmad Malik Rayton, 25, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty on April 3 to one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter for shooting at one man.

Ahmad Rayton originally was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of felon in possession of a firearm.

In March, McMillon, a co-defendant, 20, of Topeka, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which he completed before he was sentenced.