Twenty years later, the facts of this Denver drive-by don't add up

Twenty years later, the facts of this Denver drive-by don't add up
Keith Negley

It has been a long time now. Twenty-two years this week. Long enough for the whole episode to be forgotten by the cops, the lawyers and just about everybody else. But to three graying convicts and their families, it's still unfinished business, a problem that has to be solved.

Eric Lightner remembers that night like it was yesterday. Sitting in a sparse prison visiting room with brothers Brian and William Lee, he goes over it all again:

It's just past three in the morning on June 14, 1992, a frenetic Saturday night fading into a somber Sunday morning. Brian, 22 years old, is at the wheel of his blue 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass with the gold rims, headed east on Martin Luther King Boulevard, headed home. Eric, 21, is in the passenger seat. William, a month shy of 19, is in the back.

Approaching Steele Street, they roll up next to a 1981 Chevrolet Malibu Classic wagon. Lightner looks over at the driver, Damon Roberts, also known as D-Dog, a member of the 187 AK (Anybody Killer) Gangster Crips. Roberts glares back.

"I don't know what was said," Lightner says. "We had the music up kind of loud, and the music in Roberts's car was even louder. He looked like he was upset. His face was frowned up, his mouth was moving. We knew it was hostile."

"He said, 'What y'all wanna do? This is Crip,'" adds William Lee. "I said, 'Fuck Crip.' I don't know if he heard me or not."

"Personally, I didn't really know Damon Roberts," Lightner says. "According to the police, there were four people in that car, but I didn't see them. I just saw him."

Lightner saw D-Dog, and then he saw a gun in D-Dog's hand. Of that he is certain. "I see Damon Roberts reaching down, like he's trying to get something from under the seat," he says. "Then I see the handle of the gun in his hand."

It's a moment frozen in time — a moment of decision, one of those forks in the road from which there is no turning back. The actions of the next few seconds changed everything.

When it was over, the Malibu wagon stood idle near Madison Street, with two flat tires and five bullet holes along the driver's side. Damon Roberts sat in the street clutching at his left thigh, bleeding from a gunshot wound. One of his passengers, 15-year-old Tiffany Locke, flagged down cars, calling out frantically for an ambulance. Another, Robert McGregor, also 15, looked in disbelief at the body of his 23-year-old cousin, James, in the back seat, dead from a single shot to the heart.

To the Denver press, the shooting was a drive-by crime of the times, one more senseless killing in a city in the throes of gang violence. It seemed to fit a familiar pattern: bellicose young men from rival sets square off, eye-fuck each other, bandy insults or flash signs — and then the gats come out. More young lives ruined or cut short, another occasion for mourning and soul-searching in east Denver's African-American community. Prosecutors would argue that the killing of James McGregor was, in fact, one of the more heinous acts of gang violence the city had seen up to that point because it was not random at all. They claimed that Lightner and the Lee brothers had gone out looking for Roberts to "do some dirt" — to get payback for an altercation at a club earlier that night between the Crips and members of the Gangsters of Love, a "street gang" associated with the Lees.

Aided by information from eyewitnesses, the Denver police arrested Lightner and the Lees 35 minutes after the shooting. All three were charged with numerous felonies, ranging from murder and conspiracy to second-degree assault. The three went to trial together — a tumultuous proceeding during which several witnesses changed their stories or refused to testify, prompting Denver District Court Judge Richard Spriggs to complain that the courthouse "reeked of perjury." All three were convicted of first-degree murder and are now serving identical sentences of life without parole plus fifty years.

Lightner and the Lees exhausted their legal appeals years ago. They have exemplary records at the Limon Correctional Facility, the high-security prison where they have now spent half their lives. They have matured into quiet, disciplined individuals, respected by other inmates and staff alike. They hope to one day be considered for Colorado's clemency process, a pardon or reduction of their sentence by the governor.

But there's a catch: Clemency candidates are expected to take responsibility for their crimes. William and Brian Lee and Eric Lightner have expressed remorse for what they say is their role in what happened that night 22 years ago, but they insist — and have always insisted — that they didn't kill anyone.

"We're not innocent," says Brian Lee. "We're guilty of being in that thing and shooting at them. But we didn't kill James McGregor. We're sorry as all outdoors for his death. If we could bring him back, we would. But we can't. And we don't want to be in prison the rest of our lives for something we didn't do."

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Who'm ever is telling this story is very mis leading and it's also false.and if one take's the time to read this artiicle they to shall see that the family is so desperate for their freedom that there falsifying the three individuals character.placing them as the good kids on the block, but then a close family member who was used as a witness proved just who they were and what there intentions was that night.and frrom the story the cuz'n gave brian lee, a on a mission and that mission was to kill and damon roberts was the target there prey.damon became hunted and they found his trail that led to a gold chevy malibu station wagon with more than damon inside who was driving and that car would receive 9 bullet hoe's from a true friend of brian lee's, who must of had his friends rage, hate and anger troubeling his heart and mind that needed release and his gun would show just how mad he was by shooting into damons vehicle 9 time's, which were not warning shots but hot's aimed to hurt harm disfigure or take a life like the life was taken of james mcgregor.who's life matter's and means something to those who are still alive nd remember tht y as if it were yesterday.after the ee brother's sentence they were sent up to limon correctional facility were the three stil remain confined for this senseless act of revenge from a fist fight it seeme like the lee brother's and erik lightner, could'nt and would not james mcgregor, became a victim to their evil and hateful revenge, so in truth james og sneak mcgregor was innocent person tht hppen to be t the wrong plce at the wrong time.sad how iti so easy to overlook the life that was taken and how it was taken by those who did not care who live'd or died that night from the mission to find and kill damon roberrts.i guess in part they kinda complete there mission, because they found there target their pray who were so called gangmember's! Now imagine that school boy's who were supposedly scared affraid of gangmember's are hunting gangmember's down taking the war to a group of people based on color's that suppose to be dangerous group, well on that early morning the lee brother's and erik lightner, took on that challenge not careing about the consequence's of dealing with a large body of people that signed up for death or jail.brian lee's concern and focus was payback at any cost and the price would be a life sentence plus behind bar's, with one more shot at freedom due to appeals.which would come 6yr's later in 1998, were the lee brother's and erik lightner would come up with plan with another lifer doing time for the killing of one of the lee brother's family member or friend.see sam lil sneak des, would write the lee brother's and erik lightner, explaining to them how he could say he was dating tiffany locke, who supposed'ly told hi sam lil sneak des that she accident'ly shot james og sneak mcgregor and supposed'ly got the gun from me larry webster, which was a lie all the way around.well I ended up in limon, in 1996 were I was for two year's when in the beginning in1998 I spoke to brian lee about there case.were he asked me if I could help them off of that life sentence, since everyone that was in the car with damon roberts was deceased.i waas like bro I dont have nothingtto do with that so brian made up a story which he got from sam des.which was to say they came by my house and he asked me for gun and I gave him one and tiffany did it im like what? I told brian I would think about that.well brian could'nt wait so he had his lawyer come and see me wo would ask me if dmon cme by and if I gave him a gun and did tiffany te cause of james mcgregor and no but since there gone wat if I say this brian's lawyer said you would be looking at accesory shit I ended the interview like they got me a few month's went by and brian lee and william leemust of been mad because the two brother's with another lifer and they were on te clean up crew, which goe's to each unit cleaning sanitizin the bathroom, when the three ran up in my room the , person with two life sentences had the knief out from california as brian lee stood beside him and william holding and watching the cell door which william had almost closed.i immediate'ly jumped out of my bunk scared but ready to fight for my life, words was exchanged and I let them know im not affraid to die and im not goiing any where.after about ten minutes of them seeing I was reaady to battle for my life they walked out my cell.5 months went by I only had 6 months left before my release when I was transferred to 4mile a minimum camp were the second day there I was asked t pack my belongings because I had court.i began explaining that I was done with all court and im doing time for my crimes.anyway while in the transport van on the canon city compound we made a stop at centennial correctional facility were we would pick up sam lil sneak des, who immediately got in the van an explained to me that we were headed to limon to pick up some inmates and he may have a issue with like I just left limon but ok any problems im riding with you.but when we get to limon and pick up the inmates to my surprise it was erik lightner and the lee brother' to myself like wtf, is going on with this picture? Was my thought but I didnt say anything I just watched and no time did anyone tell me we were all going to the same when we get to the county jail the 4 of them went one way and I went another.the next morning I was led into erik lightner and the lee brothers trial.were I was asked if damon roberts came by my house earlier that day and if tiffany killed james og sneak mcgreor, were I said no and I dont no I was not there and had nothing to do with it I was immediately taken down.i saw the saddness in there face mad because they wanted me to lie placing myself envolved in there case trying to use me as there scape goat.thinking if I said yeah I gave tiffany a gun and I did not nor anyone else but that would give me an accesory case which brians lawyer explained to me and if I said what they want me to say I can get up to 32yr''s.shiiit, yaw got me bent I maybe slow but not, anyway when we got back to the county I waited until I heard they were all back from court I sent word and had sam lil sneak des beat up for lying on my dead home girl rip, and trying to get out through trying to use me to help them hep him.a game that many lifers play trying to get out that hell hole.after 20 years I believe the three deserve there freedom, but not by way of lie's and deciet misleading people from what they dont no or maybe remember but I remember it all like it was yesterday.i had to sale my car and some belongings tohelp bury my friend james og sneak know brian lee parents even tried to pay me to become apart of there sons case offered me brians el comino and 25hundrer cash. Nah! Im cooand I dont roll like that.peace.larry webster, the truth,