Bad blood had long been brewing when a group of men from Topeka left for Lawrence on the night three people would be killed in wild gunfire on Massachusetts Street, including a Shawnee bystander caught in the spray of bullets.
“We came to Lawrence to have some fun,” the first witness said in a preliminary hearing in the Douglas County Courthouse Thursday morning.
But a friend had already been beaten in the face earlier that night, the witness, Marvell Miller, testified. The rival group was likely already in Lawrence. And testimony showed that three people with Miller — Anthony Laron Roberts Jr., 20, Ahmad Malik Rayton, 22, and Dominique Jaquez McMillon, 19 — were carrying guns.
Bars and shows were closing early Sunday morning Oct. 1 about 1:40 a.m. when a fight broke out and gunfire erupted over a crowd of “hundreds” of people roaming near 11th Street and Massachusetts Street, a police officer witness said.
Those three people who were with Miller would be charged with crimes.
Roberts is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Brown and with second-degree murder in the deaths of Dean and Henderson.
Rayton is charged with attempted second-degree murder in the shooting of one of the survivors of the shootings, and criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
McMillon is charged with aggravated assault and battery.
Lawrence Police Officer Tyler Haney was one of the first running to the scene — seeing muzzle flashes, as many as three shooters, he said. He gave chase after one shooter, but then ran up on Brown’s body in the street.
“I tried to save her life,” he said. He fumbled with gloves. Asked for help. He thought maybe she was fighting for breath.
But he realized, he said, “it was the last bit of breath that leaves a body when someone is deceased.”
Witness Robert Wheeler, described by Miller as the key figure in the rival group in the fight that broke out, testified Thursday afternoon. He described the panicked scene as the shooting erupted.
Henderson was Wheeler’s cousin. Dean, who was nearby in the street, was a friend, Wheeler said. And Brown was tragically in the wrong place at that moment.
“My cousin had died in front of me,” he said. And his friend was lying dead, he said. “And a girl (Brown) was lying there. She had nothing to do with it. That makes it hurt even worse.”
The murder charge against Roberts in Brown’s death was a felony murder case, meaning prosecutors claim Brown was an unintended target and was killed during the act of a felony — the shots prosecutors allege Roberts fired at other victims.
Roberts’ second-degree murder charges mean prosecutors allege Roberts intentionally fired on Dean and Henderson.
For Thursday’s hearing the defendants were dressed in jail-issued clothes, with their hands in cuffs, chained in front of them. Six Douglas County sheriffs deputies stood watch.
Miller testified against his will, saying he had been pressured to make a statement and to testify.
The group with Miller had met in the parking lot of a Topeka motel earlier that evening, testimony showed. The group was angry because one of their friends who met them there had come from Lawrence where he had been beaten in a fight.
Lawrence Police Detective M.T. Brown testified that Miller in previous statements said the group intended to go to Lawrence “to get revenge,” though Miller did not say that was the reason in his testimony Thursday.
They did not go to confront the rival group, Miller testified.
Miller would meet up again with Roberts, Rayton and McMillon in Lawrence. They were sitting on a wall on the corner at Massachusetts and 11th streets when the group of rival men — led by Wheeler — approached them aggressively, Miller said. One of the victims, Henderson, was with Wheeler’s group.
Wheeler and people associated with him had been angry with the group of people associated with Miller in recent years. The prosecution referred to two people who had been killed in 2016 and that the two groups of men have been angry over those deaths.
“Both sides don’t like each other and other homicides were involved,” the detective, Brown, testified.
Wheeler testified that he and Henderson and other friends were leaving the area of the Granada theater on Massachussetts Street toward Brothers bar to the south when they saw Roberts, Rayton and McMillon sitting on a rock wall at 11th Street.
Roberts flashed a gun, held down at his side, for Wheeler to see, Wheeler said. Moments later Wheeler approached the men. He said it was to protect another friend nearby.
Miller testified Roberts came angrily.
Miller and Wheeler gave conflicting testimony about who threw the first punch — either Wheeler or McMillon. But once the fighting started, then it was “mayhem,” Detective Brown said, quoting Miller’s statement to police.
Miller previously told police in a statement that Roberts fired shots, and that they were all running from the scene. But Miller in his testimony Thursday said he wasn’t sure where the gunshots were coming from.
Wheeler said Roberts was firing, standing at first, then “shooting recklessly” as he ran from the scene. Wheeler said that after he knocked McMillon down, Henderson joined in the fight. Wheeler wrestled with Rayton, then ran, with bullets “whistling past my ears.”
But he saw Henderson was down and he went back, he said.
Dean was also down.
Another witness, Tahzay Rayton, had been with Dean when the shooting started. Tahzay Rayton was shot twice and would spend two to three days in the hospital. But as he had fallen in the street, he turned back to Dean, and watched as a woman came and tried in vain to save him with CPR.
Brown said police believe Roberts was shooting from the west toward the east, and Rayton shot from the south to the north in the crowded street of people.
Police do not believe that Wheeler or any of the people in his group had guns.
Miller said Thursday that he was not sure who was firing, but that he ran from the gunfire and that Roberts was running “on my heels” as well as Rayton and McMillon.
They got into Roberts’ SUV and were driving toward Topeka when they were stopped by a Lawrence police car. They were stopped because a taillight was out, Miller said.
Roberts and Rayton let police know they had firearms in the car, Miller said, and the guns were inspected. The officers eventually let them return to the vehicle and drive on that night.
Detective Brown said that Miller was extremely reluctant to testify and was worried about repercussions. Miller has been a victim of gun violence in the past and has been shot three times, Brown said.
In cross examination by Roberts’ attorney, Jennifer Chaffee, Miller said that detectives “wanted me to point the finger at Anthony Roberts.”
The hearing will continue Jan. 19 at 9 a.m. and will likely need to continue on a third day yet to be determined.