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Topeka homicide, downtown shooting detailed at Eric Perkins' hearing

Aug 16, 2023Aug 16, 2023

Kristi Mendez on Monday recalled the fear she felt when Eric Perkins pointed a handgun at her head and abducted her last September in Topeka after shooting two other people, one fatally.

"He said, 'Everybody's going to die today,'" she said.

Mendez told of how she became Perkins' unwilling passenger, then found herself in the midst of a car chase, followed by a police gun battle in downtown Topeka.

"I was scared for my life," she said.

Mendez, 39, was among witnesses who testified at a preliminary hearing that ended with Perkins being bound over for trial on each of 13 charges he faces, including intentional and premeditated first-degree murder.

She said she was wounded twice, by one gunshot that passed through her left calf and another that struck her near a knee, lodging too close to an artery to be removed.

More:Topeka police officer shot in gun battle after pursuing suspect car from earlier homicide

Perkins, 34, of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, faces various charges linked to the Sept. 29 fatal shooting of Gregory Dean Butts, 55.

Mendez testified Monday that Butts was the stepfather of her best friend, Season Gardner, 32.

She said Gardner and Gardner's two small children visited Mendez late Sept. 28 at her home at 3530 S.W. Kerry Ave.

Butts spent some time at the house that evening, and planned to do some mechanical work on Gardner's vehicle the next day, Mendez said.

Perkins, who was then Gardner's boyfriend, also arrived that evening at the house, she said.

The next morning, Mendez said, some friction existed between Perkins and Gardner over "something on (Gardner's phone)."

A police charging affidavit in the case suggests Perkins suspected Gardner was cheating on him.

Perkins shot Butts the morning of Sept. 29 as Butts was walking up to Mendez's house, where the main front door was open but the screen door was closed, Mendez said.

She said she thought Perkins fired through the screen door from just inside the house, hitting Butts in the chest area.

Butts was just outside the house, probably about four feet away from Perkins, Mendez said.

Butts started to walk away, while Perkins left the house and followed him, she said.

Mendez said she locked the house's front door and called 911, but Perkins soon afterward broke out a front window and came back inside and ordered her at gunpoint to find the keys to her car.

More:Defendant in Topeka downtown shootout wanted to 'take two officers with him': affidavit

At some point, Mendez said, Perkins shot Season Gardner once in the face in the front room of Mendez's home.

Gardner doesn't remember being shot, or her stepfather's being shot, she testified Monday.

She said she was wounded on the left side of the face, just below and to the left of her eye.

Gardner said she suffered nerve damage, no longer has feeling in that area and is unable to control her muscles there.

Edmund E. Wilson Jr., who lives across the street at 3523 S.W. Kerry Ave., testified Monday that he was watching TV when he heard gunshots.

Wilson said he looked out front and saw a man with a handgun chase Butts across the street into Wilson's front yard, where Butts fell down near a tree and the gunman shot him two or three times in the back.

The gunman then went to the house at 3530 S.W. Kerry Ave. and forced entry there by kicking in a front window, Wilson said.

He said he approached Butts, checked for his pulse and found none.

Meanwhile, Wilson said, he heard his wife yell that the gunman was coming back in their direction.

He said he ran into his house as the gunman fired at least three times, missing Wilson but twice striking his house and once hitting a house next door.

More:Man who allegedly got into downtown shootout with police booked into Shawnee County Jail

Mendez said that after she found the keys to her silver 2004 Toyota Corolla, Perkins forced her to get into the passenger's seat as he drove it.

Mendez's cell phone rang, and Perkins forced her to throw it out of the car near S.W. 37th and Topeka Boulevard, she said.

Mendez said Perkins, who wasn't very familiar with the Topeka area, entered the Kansas Turnpike at its South Topeka Interchange and started driving south before a law enforcement officer pulled them over.

Perkins initially stopped, Mendez said, then drove away once the officer got out of his vehicle.

Perkins made a U-turn through the turnpike median, went back north and got off the turnpike at its South Topeka interchange, she said.

More:DA rules on whether police acted justifiably in firing shots during downtown gun battle

At no point did Mendez feel free to leave Perkins, she testified.

Perkins talked about how he needed to find another vehicle, Mendez said.

She said Perkins handed her the clip from one of the two handguns he was carrying — without giving her the actual gun — and she reloaded it for him.

Mendez recalled hearing Perkins saying he wanted to take two police officers with him when he died.

Meanwhile, she said, Perkins' arm was bleeding, and she wrapped her T-shirt around it. Perkins appeared to be becoming "sluggish" from loss of blood, Mendez said.

Testimony on Monday suggested Perkins hurt his arm breaking in or coming through Mendez's front window.

Mendez said after a police vehicle turned on its red lights to try to stop them in southeast Topeka, Perkins led that officer on a vehicle chase.

Perkins held one of his handguns out of the car's driver's side window to shoot at the officer, she said.

The chase entered downtown Topeka and ended when the car Perkins was driving struck a fire hydrant near S. 6th and Kansas Ave., where Perkins and police exchanged gunshots.

Mendez said officers initially handcuffed her before realizing she was a victim.

Perkins was also wounded, and was initially hospitalized before being booked into the Shawnee County Jail.

A Topeka police officer, whose name and age haven't been made public, was struck once by gunfire. He was released after being treated at a Topeka hospital, said Topeka Police Chief Bryan Wheeles.

The officer wore body armor, which "took the majority of the impact of the round" and prevented him from being hurt much more seriously, Wheeles said.

Mendez acknowledged Monday she had smoked methamphetamine the evening before the homicide but said she was no longer under the influence of that drug when the next morning when it occurred.

When asked if Topeka attorney Kevin Shepherd had accompanied Mendez to Monday's hearing in order to provide her emotional support, Mendez responded, "I believe so."

She said the Shawnee County District Attorney's office had never threatened to charge her with any crimes or offered her immunity from prosecution.

Perkins was defended by attorney James Landis Spies while the prosecution's case was presented by District Attorney Mike Kagay and senior deputy district attorney Keith Henderson.

District Judge Jessica Heinen bound Perkins over first trial on two counts of aggravated assault and criminal discharge of a firearm recklessly at an occupied dwelling and one count each of:

• Intentional and premeditated first-degree murder.

• Intentional and premeditated attempted first-degree murder.

• Aggravated kidnapping.

• Aggravated child endangerment.

• Aggravated burglary.

• Aggravated assault to a law enforcement officer.

• Criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.

• Fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer.

And interference with a law enforcement officer.

Contact Tim Hrenchir at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.

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