Evidence of murder victims’ alleged crime spree being allowed at double homicide trial

Courtesy: Jackson Citizen Patriot

JACKSON, MI – Evidence indicating two teens who were shot and killed trespassing on a Springport man’s property more than a year ago were on an alleged crime spree prior to their deaths is being allowed at trial next week.

According to our media partners at the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Tracy Lawrence, 54, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of felony firearms in the shooting deaths of Hunter Lentz, 18, and Matthew McMillen, 18, on June 8, 2016. His trial is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 17.

At a pre-trial motion hearing Friday, July 14, Jackson County Circuit Judge John McBain granted Lawrence’s attorneys’ request to allow the jury to hear evidence that the teens were suspected of breaking into several residences the morning of their deaths.

“The jury has a right to know why they were out there in the middle of nowhere,” Lawrence’s attorney George Lyons said. “They were not boys who were just out there wandering around, they were men there to commit a felony.”

According to documents obtained by the Citizen Patriot through a Freedom of Information Act request, police suspect McMillen and Lentz were in the middle of a string of break-ins and larcenies the morning they were killed, starting in Napoleon Township and ending at Lawrence’s home.

Prosecutors have continuously challenged the defense request, arguing the reasoning behind introducing the evidence is to smear the victims.

At previous motion hearings, McBain has agreed with prosecutor’s concerns and made no decision on allowing the additional evidence. That changed on Friday.

“I don’t think this case should be tried in a vacuum, but it’s also not fair to slime the victims,” McBain said. “Acts they may have committed months ago are out, but reports of the their activities leading up to their deaths is in.”

McBain also granted a defense request to allow the jury to visit the scene of the shooting during the trial.

McMillen and Lentz were shot and killed in the 13000 block of Town Road while they were allegedly breaking into a vehicle at Lawrence’s home.

Based on testimony from investigators at Lawrence’s Oct. 3 preliminary examination, the court found there is a reasonable belief the two were fleeing from Lawrence at the time of the shooting, which established the charge of second-degree murder.

The prosecution has said that at about 6:30 a.m., Lawrence saw the two teens in his backyard, retrieved his .22 long rifle, stepped out on the back porch, yelled at the two get off his property and proceeded to open fire on them.

Lawrence told police he felt his life was being threatened and believed the two were running toward him. He only wanted to scare them off.

Dr. Patrick Cho, who performed autopsies on both McMillen and Lentz, testified both teens were killed from single gunshot wounds.

The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison.

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