Crime

Jury: Lasure guilty of murder

Toby Lasure shown on the witness stand on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 during his murder trial in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington, Ky.  Lasure is accused of the murder of Christopher Tolliver.   Photo by David Perry | Staff
Toby Lasure shown on the witness stand on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 during his murder trial in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington, Ky. Lasure is accused of the murder of Christopher Tolliver. Photo by David Perry | Staff

A Fayette Circuit Court jury recommended Wednesday night that Toby Ray Lasure serve life in prison for killing Christopher Tolliver almost two years ago. Earlier in the day, it found Lasure guilty of murder.

Lasure shot Tolliver, 31, in the parking lot of The Mall at Lexington Green on March 5, 2009, then led police on a chase that reached speeds of 90 to 100 mph.

The jury reached the guilty verdict after about 21/2 hours, then it deliberated nearly three hours before returning with sentencing recommendations about 9:20 p.m.

The jury had the option of recommending 20 to 50 years in prison instead of life.

Judge Kimberly Bunnell is scheduled to sentence Lasure on March 25. If he gets life, Lasure would be eligible for parole after 20 years.

The jury also recommended that Lasure, 33, serve five years for fleeing and evading police; the sentence would run consecutively with the life sentence. It recommended 90 days for leaving the scene of an accident.

The jury had spent four days listening to testimony.

Prosecutors said during opening statements that Lasure executed Tolliver. Witnesses said they heard a loud pop and saw Lasure standing angrily over Tolliver. They said Lasure calmly stepped over Tolliver's body before he got into his vehicle and screeched off.

Lasure's attorney, public defender Rawl Kazee, never disputed Lasure pulled the trigger. What was at issue, though, was whether it was murder, Kazee said.

Often fighting back or wiping away tears, Lasure took the stand Tuesday. He told jurors he shot Tolliver to protect his lover, Tony Dev ereaux, with whom he had lived and had an on-again, off-again relationship for 17 months. Lasure said Tolliver was not his boyfriend but was someone he cared about. He told the jury they shared some intimate moments but never had sex. Lasure said Tolliver could not understand why Lasure was going back to Devereaux.

And Lasure said that on the day of the shooting, Tolliver asked to meet Lasure at Lexington Green — and told Lasure to bring money and a gun. Lasure said Tolliver was going to visit Devereaux, and Lasure was fearful of what would happen.

On Wednesday, prosecutors called a few witnesses back to the stand to clarify that investigators never found any money on Tolliver.

Tolliver's older sister Joyce "Joy" Middleton of Lawrenceburg told the jury Wednesday that Lasure and Tolliver appeared to be a couple. She said Lasure was introduced to her family as Tolliver's boyfriend.

Tolliver's family has said that the two men were dating but that Tolliver was trying to break things off.

Also Wednesday, the jury heard contradictory testimony from two professionals about whether Lasure had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychologist Peter Schilling testified that in his opinion Lasure "wasn't grossly mentally ill" but suffered from PTSD. Shilling said he based that diagnosis on five to six hours of face-to-face interviews with Lasure and a review of Lasure's medical and other records.

But Dr. Andrew Todd Cooley, a psychiatrist at Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center, a rebuttal witness for the prosecution, said Lasure did not present symptoms that would meet the threshold for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lasure spent 22 days at the center for evaluations but "did not start off on a good foot," Cooley said.

Cooley said that in his first interview he asked Lasure about the charges against him.

Lasure responded by saying, "I'm not going to talk about it because you have not earned my trust," Cooley said.

In her closing statement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kathy Phillips said post-traumatic stress disorder "cannot be considered a defense in this case."

"Bad relationships do not equal post-traumatic stress disorder, or I think a whole lot more people would have it," Phillips said. "There is no evidence that his state of mind was impaired in any way."

Phillips said repeatedly in her closing statement and in a slide presentation that Lasure "executed" Tolliver by shooting him in the back of the head.

With the first use of that phrase and the display of Tolliver's photo on a large screen, Lasure broke into a sob while sitting at the defense table.

"Ladies and gentlemen, he executed him," Phillips told the jury. "I've said it a lot, but I've said it because that's what the proof shows."

Kazee argued in his closing that Lasure was acting under "extreme emotional disturbance" and had no plan to kill Tolliver.

Rather, "the likely conclusion is he just snapped," Kazee said. Later, Kazee added that Lasure "lost himself, and it had tragic consequences."

According to the instructions read to the jury by the judge, the eight women and four men could have found Lasure guilty of intentional murder, wanton murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide, or it could find him not guilty.

Several of Tolliver's relatives cried as the judge read the sentencing recommendations. His mother, Lilly Frederick, said the moment was bittersweet. She was pleased with the verdict but said she realized it would not bring Tolliver back.

"We miss him so much," she said.

Frederick said her son was a "kind, loving person."

"In my heart, I will always grieve the loss of my son," she said. "That's something I'll never stop doing."

A relative of Lasure declined to comment as he left the courtroom Wednesday night.

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