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Only 26, Markus Lee beat three murder charges in eight years - and the cops are still chasing



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One witness, Gunn's girlfriend, had attended the block party. Under Missouri's public-­records laws, the records of trials ending in acquittals are sealed, and the prosecutor on the case, Michael Hunt, declined to comment. But according to Lee, Gunn's girlfriend testified that authorities had threatened to prosecute her "like Lil Kim" if she refused to cooperate.

The other witness, Michael Wooden, had to be forced to give his testimony. He initially told police that Lee shot Logan at the block party. But at the trial, Wooden said he had never seen the shooter's face, The Kansas City Star reported.

In his closing arguments, Hunt tried to convince the jury that the witnesses were changing their stories out of fear. "The man, Lester Gunn, who was at the first homicide, where is he today?" Hunt said. "Six feet under."

Lee's lawyer, a public defender named Tim Burdick, countered by poking holes in the witnesses' original statements. Gunn's girlfriend had initially identified another man as the shooter, he told jurors, and she was an admitted PCP user. The prosecutors were the ones using intimidation, he said, to motivate witnesses who weren't credible.

The jurors found Lee not guilty on all counts.

"It was really crazy," Lee says. "I'm just sitting here and I'm watching all this unfold, thinking, Why'd I have to sit in jail all this time."

One would expect Lee to keep a low profile after his head-to-head collision with the county's top prosecutors. Instead, not long after his acquittal, Lee was in the news again. This time, a Star article described him marching with the 23rd Street PAC, a neighborhood anti-violence organization.

It's hard to imagine Rachel Riley, the PAC founder, being charmed by an accused killer. She has been one of the city's loudest voices decrying unsolved murders since 2003, a year when 19 young black men were gunned down in the neighborhood. Her son, Larry, was among them, shot to death in front of Truman Medical Center. If Larry had lived, he would be one year younger than Lee. Prosecutors never charged a suspect in her son's death.

When she met Lee at the PAC march, she had certain expectations. "The streets talk," she says, and she had heard that Lee was "deadly." But the kid standing before her that day, she remembers, was "a little bitty thing, just cute and humble as a kitten."

Riley recalls teasing Lee: "'You the big, bad wolf everybody talking about?' I looked at him, like, 'When are you gonna get yourself together?' And he said, 'Oh, Miss Riley, I'm going to.'" Her voice takes on a maternal tone. "Me condemning him or judging him would be like judging a baby."

The day Lee marched with Riley was a Tuesday in the spring of 2007. Less than a week later, police arrested him in connection with one of the decade's most publicized East Side shootings.

It was a Monday afternoon. Tierro Wates, 22, was eating Gates barbecue with his best friend, Eliseo Thomas, outside a tire shop at 31st Street and Agnes. Wates, Thomas and three other men, all in their early 20s, were waiting in Thomas' blue Yukon Denali for the attendant to put new tires on.

A silver Acura idling at the nearest cross street caught Wates' eye. When it rolled closer, Wates would later testify, he saw a flash of black, "like people raised up out of the car." Then came the sounds of gunshots, shattering glass and bullets tearing through metal.

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