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15 years ago, 2 girls begged for lives

The jury deliberations begin today in the trial of one of three men charged with murder.

By Mark Price
msprice@charlotteobserver.com

Teenagers Tasha Lopes and her friend Raylynn Chelten were hysterical on the night of June 3, 1993, and begged, “Please don't kill me,” in the minutes before they were sexually assaulted and shot to death, one of the men accused of killing the girls told investigators in a taped statement.

Tasha, 17, and Raylynn, 15, desperately believed their lives would be spared if they did not resist, murder suspect Antwan Sanders, 33, told investigators on the tape.

But both girls, who continued to cry, were shot in the head: Raylynn three times, Tasha once.

The mothers of both girls wept as they listened in court Thursday to Sanders describing how the men carried out their assault at a secluded lot in northwest Charlotte.

The jury in Sanders' murder trial begins deliberations today. Investigators say Sanders, Myron Terrell Burris and Robert Chevelle Friday had planned to rob a drug dealer who lived in a southwest Charlotte apartment complex. The drug dealer was not at home, so the men turned their guns on the two girls, who happened to be standing in the parking lot, authorities said.

The men forced the two into the back of a Nissan Sentra at gun point, took their jewelry, and drove to a lot near the Chemway Industrial Park, where the girls were told to get out and remove their clothes, investigators said. The assaults took place over about a 15-minute span.

Sanders is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, sexual offense, robbery and kidnapping. The murder charges are punishable by life in prison.

Sanders contends that Burris and Friday initiated the kidnappings and sexual assaults, and did all the shooting. He says Friday threatened to kill him twice during the night for being a witness to the crimes.

Burris has pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in the girls' killings. His sentencing was postponed until he could testify against Sanders and in the pending murder trial of Friday, officials said.

During Thursday's closing arguments, defense attorney Norman Butler repeatedly attacked the credibility of Burris, telling jurors that prosecutors were relying on the word of a “murderer, kidnapper and thug.”

“There is no evidence that Antwan Sanders did anything to cause the death of these girls, no proof he caused these girls to get into the car,” Butler told the jury. “This is an ugly case, not only for what happened to those young girls, but compounded by the disgusting witness Myron Burris.”

The murders of Tasha and Raylynn were among the first unsolved cases investigated by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's cold case squad. The squad was formed in 2003 when the department had about 300 unsolved homicides spanning four decades. Later that year, the squad made arrests in the murders of Tasha and Raylynn.

The homicide cold case unit has cleared 26 cases since its formation, including the 1984 killing of a woman stabbed 13 times in her home and a 1989 slaying of a 16-year-old runaway. The squad has been recognized by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Tasha Lopes and Raylynn Chelten met as students at Olympic High School. The day the two disappeared, Raylynn's mother thought her daughter was at Tasha's house. Tasha's mom thought she was at Raylynn's. After the two spoke and realized their children were missing, they called police.

When interviewed by police, residents of the Emerald Bay Apartments, where Raylynn and her mother lived, said they heard a commotion the night before. One witness who testified during Sanders' trial said she saw two girls being forced at gun point into a car.

Five days after the mothers called police, the girls' naked bodies were found by workers clearing a lot in the Chemway Industrial Park.

The jury in the case will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. today and begin deliberations after getting final instructions.

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