Crime & Courts

Victims describe robbery that led to police shooting

Tony Hula said he was awakened in the middle of the night by a stranger who stood in his bedroom doorway with a pocket knife and said, “It’s time to get up.”

“I picked up a hatchet and said, ‘You’d better have something bigger than that, boy,’” Hula told a Sedgwick County jury Wednesday.

“What happened after that?” prosecutor Chelsea Anderson asked.

“He called his friend and told him to bring a gun,” Hula said. “He called it a burner, but I knew what he meant.”

Wichita police say Hula was one of seven people who were forced at gunpoint into the living room of a home at 1201 W. Crawford last year during a botched home-invasion robbery that ended with Wichita police shooting three of four suspects as they scrambled out the back door. One of the suspects, Timothy Collins, 17, was killed.

Hula’s testimony came during the third day of the trial of Reginald Vaughn, 21, who was wounded in the gunfire and is now charged with 11 felonies, including aggravated assault on a police officer and seven counts of kidnapping. Police said the officers opened fire after at least one of the suspects pointed a gun at officers.

During his testimony, Hula identified Vaughn as one of the robbers.

“He was the one who woke me up,” Hula said.

“Why do you sleep with a hatchet?” Anderson later asked.

“Just in case,” Hula said. “I like to be prepared, and I can’t have a gun because I’m a felon.”

Defense lawyer Mark Sevart claimed that his client went to the home on April 13, 2012, to get some marijuana and was not aware of any plans to rob it. He told the jury in his opening statement that police opened fire on his client without provocation and without identifying themselves as officers.

Hula testified that he was on the living room floor when police arrived and the robbers began scrambling for the back door.

“What happened next?” Anderson asked.

“I heard shots,” Hula said.

“Did you hear anything else either before or after?” Anderson asked.

“I don’t know, really, what you’re asking,” Hula said.

“Did you hear officers say anything before the gunshots?” Anderson asked.

Sevart objected at that point. After a brief bench conference, Hula was presented with a transcript of a statement he gave to police on the day of the robbery.

“What did you hear?” Anderson asked.

“I heard ‘Freeze!’ ‘Drop your weapon!’ ‘Don’t move!’ Several things,” he said after reading the transcript. “I mean police have to announce their presence.”

Not all the victims remember hearing police issue a warning.

Randy Hula, Tony Hula’s brother, said he didn’t recall hearing any warnings.

“I heard gunfire, really,” he said. “And what I thought was glass breaking.”

“Is it fair to say you didn’t hear anything else before the gunshots?” Sevart asked.

“I don’t recall,” he said. “The main thing that struck my mind was gunfire.”

“You didn’t hear any warning before?” Sevart asked.

“No. There’s no way I would have. I wasn’t really paying attention to sounds. I was paying attention to the defendant, who had a gun pointed at me.”

Another victim, Patricia Merritt, said she remembers hearing a warning.

“I heard cops yelling for them to get on the ground several times,” Merritt said. “Then we heard gunshots.”

Merritt told the jury that she used a cellphone to call 911 after the robbers allowed her to go to the basement of the home to check on a sleeping 2-year-old child.

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