The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

June 11, 2012

2 accused of hindering search for Auburn suspect

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The search for a man charged with fatally shooting three people and wounding three more at a party near Auburn University focused on Alabama’s capital Monday as police said they had arrested two men accused of hindering the search.

Desmonte Leonard’s last address was at a residence in Montgomery, and authorities said they believe he returned to the city after gunfire erupted late Saturday in Auburn, about 50 miles away. Two former Auburn football players were among the dead and a third was injured.

More than three dozen local police, state agents and federal marshals were searching for Leonard, 22, who records show faced two previous charges involving guns.

“We don’t have reason to believe he is outside the city,” said Sgt. Regina Duckett, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Police Department.

Auburn police Jeremy S. Thomas, 18, of Montgomery was charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly fleeing the scene of the shooting with Leonard. Records show Thomas was free on bond at the time of the Auburn shootings while awaiting a murder trial set to begin June 18 in last year’s shooting death of Takiara Sada Gaston, 14.

Montgomery police said Gabriel Thomas, 41, was also charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly having contact with Leonard after the shooting and providing false information to officers.

Police said it wasn’t known whether Jeremy Thomas and Gabriel Thomas are related. Officers also were looking for a third man described as a person of interest in the case, but it wasn’t clear why.

Authorities are offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to Leonard’s capture.

Authorities said Leonard was charged with three counts of capital murder in the Saturday night shooting during a pool party at University Heights apartments in Auburn.

The dead included former Auburn players Edward Christian, who had to quit the team because of a lingering back injury, and Ladarious Phillips, who was transferring from Auburn to Jacksonville State University to play football. The other person killed was Demario Pitts, 20.

Of the three people who were wounded, current Auburn football player Eric Mack and Xavier Moss were both treated and released from a hospital. The third, John Robertson, remained in critical condition after being shot in the head.

A witness who identified himself as a friend of Pitts said he didn’t know the man who pulled out a gun and began firing into the crowd following a dispute over a woman.

“I ain’t never seen him a day of my life,” said Turquorius Vines, 23, who wasn’t injured in the melee.

Police arrested Leonard on two previous charges involved guns.

Court records show Montgomery police arrested Leonard in 2008 on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license, after stopping a suspected stolen vehicle and finding him inside. Documents available online didn’t show whether the case was ever resolved, but Leonard was freed on bond within days.

Leonard was charged in 2009 with assault after allegedly shooting a man in the groin, but prosecutors dropped the case after the victim told authorities Leonard wasn’t the shooter.

A Montgomery woman filed a paternity suit against Leonard on Friday that identified him as the father of a girl who turned 1 last month.

Another woman sued him in 2009 seeking unpaid child support for a girl who is now 4. A court ordered monthly payments of $305 by Leonard, who records show was working at a Walmart store at the time.

Auburn police said the shootings did not appear to have anything to do with some of the victims being former or current players on the football team, which won the national championship in 2010. The swimming pool at the apartment complex frequently is the site of parties.

The apartment complex was the scene of another shooting in April, when a man armed with an assault rifle allegedly opened fire on a police tactical team as officers carried out a search warrant. No one was hurt, but officer seized weapons, cash and a pound of marijuana.

Police identified the alleged shooter in the April gunfire as a 21-year-old man, who was charged with four counts of attempted murder and drug possession. Three other men were arrested on drug charges.

 

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