On April 26, 2003, Tyree Conway attended a party at the Wichita home of Britteny Strong. As the party progressed, Strong called Michael Anderson and asked him to bring marijuana to the party, for her and another attendee, Rachel Bell. Anderson, a member of the street gang known as the Bloods, arrived at the party with Maurice Johnson, also a Blood, and Jermaine “Bucket” Powell, a member of the street gang known as the Folks.
At some point, as Anderson, Johnson, and Powell were seated inside of the vehicle, someone opened fire on the car, killing Johnson, and wounding Anderson. Anderson, though wounded, managed to back the car out of the driveway and made it to a local hospital, where Johnson was pronounced dead.
Conway was arrested and charged with criminal discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle, and first-degree, felony murder. Conway’s first trial ended in a hung jury. In a second trial, he was convicted on both counts, and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of twenty years for the murder charge, plus 34 months for the discharge of a firearm.
The State’s case in both trials relied solely on circumstantial evidence, and the eyewitness testimony of Rachel Bell.
Bell initially told a detective that she was inside of the house at the time of the shooting, and that she did not see anything. However, both Strong and Anderson had told detectives that someone named “Rachel” had been present outside the passenger side of the vehicle, where the gunshots originated from.
At the police station, according to detectives, Bell stated that the “trigger man” was “Squirrel”. Police checked their gang database and found the name “Squirrel” to be associated with Tyree Conway. Then, in a videotaped interview, Bell identified Conway as the shooter, stating that she had seen a revolver sticking out of his pocket, and that she knew he was the shooter, because while she did not see the shooter’s face, she saw the gun.
Police at the time believed the gun used in the crime was a revolver, due to the lack of shell casings on the scene. Tests later confirmed this. The gun was never recovered.
Bell stated that she was a member of the street gang known as “Neighborhood Crips”, and that Conway was a member of the street gang known as “357 Crips”. Bell also admitted to being under the influence of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, and marijuana soaked in embalming fluid, at the time of the shooting.
Bell now states that her testimony was coerced through intimidation. Bell has stated that she refused to identify Conway as the shooter, and that detectives removed her from the videotaped interview room and took her in a separate room without cameras, and threatened to “go after” her brother if she refused to cooperate.
When Bell testified in the first trial, she denied identifying Conway, and stated that the gun she saw him carrying was a Tech 9, which looks nothing like a revolver. However, prosecutors played the video of her interview for the jury, where she did identify Conway, and where she did state that she saw him with a revolver earlier in the evening.
In the second trial, Bell was not permitted to testify, but transcripts of her statements were read to the jury.
Anderson testified that he and Conway had known each other since grade school, and that Conway’s grandmother had taken care of both boys after school. Johnson, the deceased, had been dating Conway’s sister, and Anderson stated that up until the incident, Conway, Anderson, and Johnson had been on good terms, despite being members of rival gangs.
Two witnesses who were not at the party, but in the area, testified that after the shots were fired, that they saw three men running away from the scene, one of whom had their hair in ponytail. Conway had his hair in a ponytail.
When police came to arrest Conway, he claimed that he had been home at the time of the shooting.
Conway’s family has never doubted his innocence, and questions the validity of Bell’s testimony, due to her inebriated state at the time of the shooting, the inconsistency of her statements, and the fact that she has since recanted her testimony. Conway’s family also questions why gunshot residue tests were not performed, why the gun was never recovered, and why Tyree, who had been friends with the young men who were shot, would suddenly want to kill them without a solid motive.
Conway’s family is staging a protest outside of the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, where Conway is currently incarcerated, on September 9, from 10 am to 12 pm. The family is calling upon Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to review the case against Tyree, and to grant clemency, as the opportunity to appeal his case has expired.