Auburn shooting suspect surrenders to police
Police chief says the case has been trying for all law enforcement involved
By Jay Reeves and Phillip Rawls
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The three-day hunt for a man charged with killing three people near Auburn University ended with the suspect walking up the steps of an Alabama courthouse and peacefully turning himself in to a U.S. Marshal waiting inside.
Hours after his surrender, Desmonte Leonard was being held early Wednesday in a Montgomery jail. He'd been on the run since Saturday, when authorities said he opened fire after a fight over a woman at a pool party. The manhunt was vexing for authorities who first dealt with misinformation from people who know Leonard, then narrowly missed catching him at a Montgomery house they searched inch-by-inch for nine hours.
"It's been a trying case for all law enforcement involved," Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said at a news conference announcing the arrest Tuesday night.
Investigators said they believe the pressure of being on the run had finally gotten to Leonard. A Montgomery defense attorney said she arranged for him to surrender after getting word that his family wanted her help.
Leonard, 22, is charged with three counts of capital murder and he's accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn football players, and a current player was among the injured.
Dawson said Leonard will be moved to Opelika near the university for a first court appearance on Wednesday or Thursday.
Attorney Susan James said she went to pick up Leonard with her son, who works for her as an investigator. She wouldn't say where except that it was about 50 miles from Montgomery. They drove him to meet investigators at the federal courthouse, where snipers were perched on the roof.
"He was very calm, very tired and very ready to get this over with and very respectful," said James, a well-known attorney whose clients have included disgraced former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.
She said they had time to talk while driving to Montgomery and added: "When the full story is told, it may sound different than the perception now."
She said she agreed to help Leonard even though she hasn't been retained. "You don't want a bad end for anybody," she said.
The Auburn police chief said Leonard appeared to be in good health, but he also declined to say where he had been hiding.
"In a case like this there is no relief because those boys aren't coming home tonight," Dawson said.
Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during their search for Leonard.
Leonard's surrender was a low-key ending to a manhunt that appeared to be at its most tense a day earlier, when officers swarmed a Montgomery home. They believed he was inside after getting two solid tips.
Police surrounded the house Monday afternoon armed with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles, but after a tense, nine-hour search, they discovered Leonard had fled by the time they arrived. At one point, they believed they heard movement and coughing in the attic, but their search that lasted until early Tuesday turned up nothing.
Believing Leonard was hiding in the attic, officers fired tear gas into the rafters and poked through insulation. Investigators said thermal imaging and other technology showed a person was in the attic area.
After police left, at least two holes were visible in the ceiling and the floor was littered with pieces of drywall and insulation. Scraps of insulation also littered the walkway outside the house. Officials promised to repay the house's owner for the damage.
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements were made for the three who were killed. The Opelika-Auburn News reported that services for Ladarious Phillips were set for Friday afternoon at the Handley High School gymnasium in Roanoke, Ala. Services for Demario Pitts were scheduled for Friday at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Loachapoka, Ala. And services for Ed Christian will take place Saturday at J.E. Mathis Municipal Auditorium in Valdosta, Ga.
Auburn University President Jay Gogue commended law enforcement on Leonard's surrender.
"We appreciate the dedication and commitment of the Auburn City Police Department and other law enforcement agencies," he said. "This is a difficult time for our campus and community. We're remembering those who lost their lives, and it's important that we pull together to help those who are grieving and recovering."
Copyright 2012 Associated Press