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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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What happened next, as described in court by a pair of KCPD officers who happened to be cruising the neighborhood that day, led the evening news. The Acura's occupants opened fire with such force that smoke from the guns' barrels poured out of the car windows. The officers, tailing the Acura as it zigzagged through residential streets, radioed for help. Someone stuck a semiautomatic rifle out the window of the Acura and began firing at the chasing cops. Bullets kicked up dirt and asphalt just ahead of the Crown Vic's front bumper.

The Acura sped up the northbound entrance ramp for Highway 71. Another dozen police cars and a KCPD helicopter joined in as the car weaved through rush-hour traffic. The spotter in the helicopter counted more than 40 police cars giving chase.

The Acura took an offramp and headed for a road under construction. The closest patrol car took a turn too fast and spun out, taking down a stop sign. When the Acura tore onward, onto eastbound Interstate 70, police drove parallel to the highway on Truman Road, hoping to anticipate the shooters' next exit. The Acura dipped off the highway at 18th Street and tore through neighborhood streets, at one point cutting dangerously close to a school bus. When the car finally slowed near 22nd Street and Chelsea, the three occupants bailed out of the passenger side of the car and ran in separate directions. The Acura kept rolling, eventually coming to rest against a fence.

When the suspects split up, the spotter in the police helicopter couldn't keep an eye on all three. He chose one man and directed police on the ground to follow him until he was apprehended. That suspect, Richard Cooper, admitted driving the car but wouldn't say anything else. Police found their second suspect, Rayshawn Taylor, hiding underneath a trailer in a gated backyard and wearing a bulletproof vest.

After Taylor was nabbed, police radios squawked with the news that all three suspects were in custody. It wasn't until 30 minutes later that they realized someone had miscounted. So they returned to the area of 20th and Chelsea and arrested Lee inside a house under construction.

Back at the tire shop, homicide detectives surveyed the carnage. One bullet nearly tore Thomas' lower jaw from his face. The shot that pierced just a few inches higher killed him instantly. One man was shot in the leg. The Yukon's other occupants suffered only minor injuries. Because they'd all ducked when the shooting started, no one had gotten a clear look at the shooters. None of the police in the chase had, either, the officers testified.

Lee was the first to go to trial, in November 2009. (Cooper is awaiting mental evaluation and has not been tried; Taylor was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.) Testimony from a parade of cops, crime-scene technicians and forensic experts offered little substance. DNA samples lifted from the guns positively matched one-fourth of the world's population, according to court documents.

The testimony of the dead victim's best friend, Wates, probably helped Lee's defense. Incredibly, police hadn't questioned Wates at the scene, so he left on his own and went to the hospital to check on his friends. Ten days after the drive-by, he was contacted by detectives. He showed up at police headquarters and picked photos of Cooper, Taylor and Lee from a lineup.

But on the witness stand, Wates claimed that he only recognized the men's faces from news reports. Wates said he had explained as much to Detective Robert Blehm, but the detective threatened him with charges if he didn't cooperate and coached Wates on the identities of the men in custody. Two and a half hours into the interview, the detective turned on a video camera and recorded Wates' statement.

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