50°F
weather icon Clear

Death penalty trial begins in Lee’s Liquor killing in Las Vegas

Updated January 28, 2020 - 5:42 pm

Matthew Christensen stood in the back room of a Lee’s Discount Liquor with his hands up and back against a wall, as a pair of robbers aimed their revolvers at him, demanding he open the store’s safe.

He handed over his wallet and cellphone.

Within moments, gunshots pierced the 24-year-old’s body, and he collapsed, dying, as the robbers ran from the store.

Jurors on Tuesday watched surveillance video of the April 2016 slaying and heard a 911 call from Christensen’s pregnant co-worker in the death penalty trial for 26-year-old Ray Charles Brown.

Prosecutors said Brown fired multiple shots that struck Christensen, a part-time employee, who had directed his killer away from his coworkers and to the back of the southwest valley store.

Assistant store manager Jamie Henderson, who was six months pregnant at the time, called 911 and rushed to Christensen’s side as the robbers and their lookout fled.

“We just got robbed at gunpoint,” she was heard on the call, played for jurors. “I need an ambulance, please.”

Henderson cried as the operator guided her to assisting Christensen. A red pool lay near his mouth, the back of his black shirt soaked in blood.

Henderson said he he was still awake and breathing, but he couldn’t speak.

“Matt can you hear me? Yes,” she told the operator. “Did you get shot more than once? Yes.”

She pressed a dry towel against a wound on his back, as he curled on his left side.

“They’re on their way now,” she told him. “Hold on … There you go buddy, keep moving your fingers.”

Body cam video from the first Metropolitan Police Department officer on the scene, Jakob Shallenberger, showed emergency crews cutting open Christensen’s shirt, as his fingers shook.

“Stay with me,” Shallenberger said. “Stay with me, all right. You’re going to be all right … You’re OK, bud. You’re OK.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Pamela Weckerly told jurors during opening statements that Christensen did not know the combination for the safe.

The second gunman, Lee Dominic Sykes, fired a warning shot, before bullets from Brown’s revolver killed Christensen, the prosecutor said.

“At the end of this case, you will know the name of the person who is responsible for that violent, sensleess act in the back room,” Weckerly said. “And that name is Ray Brown.”

‘Was it somebody else?’

But defense attorney Richard Tanasi suggested that Brown was not the man in the video.

No DNA evidence, confession, or weapon linked Brown to the robbery and slaying, and homicide detectives had investigated other suspects shortly after the murder, Tanasi said during opening statements.

“We’re confident that at the end of this case prosecutors are going to leave you with too many unanswered questions,” he said. “Was Ray in that video, or was it somebody else?”

Brown is charged with murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping, burglary while in possession of a firearm, coercion with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

If the jury convicts him of first-degree murder, the same panel would be tasked with deciding whether he should receive capital punishment. Testimony, which continues Wednesday, is expected to take up to two weeks.

Two brothers already have been sentenced for their roles in the robbery and Christensen’s killing.

Lee Dominic Sykes, 24, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, was sentenced to between 25 and 65 years in prison. He, too, had faced capital punishment before striking a deal with prosecutors.

His older brother, Lee Murray Sykes, 26, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery charges, was sentenced to 15 to 40 years behind bars.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.