The Commercial Appeal
Craigslist shooting victim described as devoted dad, ‘one of the good ones’
Mike Kincaid, a local Captain D’s general manager, says he is haunted by his decision to give his best friend his old Mustang to refurbish and sell, a gift that ultimately led to his friend’s murder.
Two teens and their 21-year-old accomplice liked the car, advertised on Craigslist, but couldn’t afford it. So, police said, the trio decided to steal it from Larry Wilkins Jr., 37, a father of six. Each of the assailants had a role. The oldest, Brandon Vance, 21, told police he contacted the victim to arrange a March 9 meeting at about 11 p.m. in the parking lot of the victim’s apartment complex south of Bartlett. Wilkins was accustomed to late hours since he worked nights as a package handler for FedEx.
Walter Collins, 17, supplied the gun and agreed to drive the victim’s car from the crime scene, Memphis police homicide Sgt. Eric Kelly testified Wednesday during a hearing in Juvenile Court. The car had a manual transmission and Collins was the only one who could drive a stick shift, Kelly said.
Martiness Henderson, 17, was supposed to hide in the bushes and pounce once the others returned to the Sycamore Lake Apartments from a test drive, homicide Sgt. Kevin Lundy testified.
All three suspects insist they plotted a robbery — not a murder. When Henderson demanded the car keys, Wilkins — muscular and over 6 feet tall — turned to face him and took a step toward him, so the teen fired off several shots, Kelly said.
The victim’s fiancée, Dionne Lee, was jolted awake by the sound of gunfire and the couple’s panicked dogs. She rushed outside to find Wilkins on the pavement in a parking space. His eyes were open, but he was motionless and soon died at an area hospital.
“I screamed and neighbors came out,” Lee testified through tears.
One of those neighbors, Samantha Tolbert, said the victim had helped her carry groceries or take out trash when
she was pregnant. He was often seen walking his pit bull and offered to give her a puppy if he bred the dog.
She and her husband, Jeremy Tolbert, later placed a cross and yellow roses on the spot where Wilkins fell.
Five days before he was shot, the victim posted smiling slit-screen photos on Facebook of himself in a tie and pink shirt and his young son in coordinating spring colors. Friends describe him as a proud father who enjoyed family outings to the park and zoo and recently hosted a birthday party for his little girl, whom he dubbed “little princess.”
Kincaid, friends with the victim for nearly two decades, said the worst day of his life was March 10 — when he learned of his best friend’s death.
He said he has visited Wilkins’ grave almost daily in the six weeks since the murder.
“I wish I could say things have gotten better, but really, you just learn to hide it,” he said.
The two met when Kincaid managed a local Taco Bell and Wilkins took a job as a cook. Wilkins hustled at the job but had fun doing it and cheered up those around him, Kincaid said.
The t wo became friends, went on trips and shared a love of football and cars. Wilkins, a self- taught mechanic, was always fixing Kincaid’s 2006 Mustang. So when Kincaid bought another car, he gave the Mustang to his friend, who gave it a fresh coat of black paint with snazzy white stripes. Wilkins already had a motor for a Chevrolet Camaro and planned to use the money from the Mustang sale to buy an old frame to fix up, his friend said.
An advertisement for the Mustang attracted the two teens and 21-year-old. They later told police that the $5,000 asking price was more than they could afford so they had decided to take it.
On Wednesday, Kincaid sat with the victim’s relatives and other friends as the two teens appeared in Juvenile Court.
Special Judge Dan Michael transferred both to adult court without bond on charges of first-degree murder in the perpetration of a robbery, the same charge the adult accomplice faces. The judge told them, “If you put a gun in the hands of someone who takes a life, you’re just as responsible as they are.”
The youths’ mothers stood behind them alone. Collins’ father is in a correctional facility, his mother said. And Henderson’s father didn’t show up for the hearing though he has visited him at the juvenile jail.
“It was kind of a numbing experience,” Kincaid said in a corridor outside the courtroom. “It was my first time seeing them,” he said, referring to the teens. “I stared at them the entire time. I couldn’t really see any emotion from them.”
The victim’s f iancée and relatives and Kincaid hugged. Some sobbed.
“I do kind of blame myself for giving him the car that set it in motion,” Kincaid said. “It’s difficult to deal with. It’s even more difficult that there are people out there like those two in the courtroom who are willing to take someone’s life for material things.”
On Thursday, Kincaid stuck a small San Francisco’s 49ers flag in the hard earth at his friend’s grave, next to red roses and pink carnations. The two enjoyed a rivalry, with Kincaid an avid Dallas Cowboys fan. They had plans to go to Texas in September to see their teams face off.
Weeks earlier at an area funeral home, Kincaid had leaned down to touch his friend’s hand, noticing that Wilkins was wearing a 49ers watch Kincaid once gave him.
He said he had grown numb to Memphis’ violent crime, reasoning that he and those he loved “were in a bubble” — safe since they worked for what they had and didn’t live risky lifestyles.
“You realize you aren’t immune to it,” Kincaid said. “Of all the people this could happen to, it was actually one of the good ones.”