Police surround home in hunt for Auburn University murder suspect

Posted June 11, 2012, at 10:02 p.m.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Authorities searching for a man charged with fatally shooting three people near Auburn University converged Monday night on a house in Alabama’s capital where they believe he may be hiding.

Police fired tear gas into the house to try to flush out someone who was inside, but were still in a “waiting game” after about three hours on the scene, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said. Dozens of police cruisers, trucks and vans surrounded the house.

Authorities received two 911 calls that someone who looked like suspect Desmonte Leonard was in or near the house, Strange told reporters. Officers have detected someone moving around, but haven’t made contact with the occupant.

“It is a waiting game,” Strange said. He said it would be difficult for police to go in, but they will if necessary: “Time is on our side.”

Police spokeswoman Regina Duckett said it appears there is only one person in the home, and tear gas did not flush him out. Authorities were able to hear coughing and movement in the house after the tear gas was used.

“I’m actually surprised he’s still in there,” she said.

Authorities said Leonard was charged with three counts of capital murder in the shooting Saturday night during a pool party at University Heights apartments. He’s also accused of wounding three others.

The dead included two former Auburn football players.

Earlier in the day police said they had arrested two men accused of hindering the search.

Auburn police said Jeremy S. Thomas, 18, of Montgomery was charged with hindering prosecution after he fled the scene of the shooting with Leonard. Records show Thomas was free on bond at the time of the Auburn shootings while awaiting a manslaughter trial set to begin June 18 in last year’s shooting death of a teenager.

Montgomery police said Gabriel Thomas, 41, was also charged with hindering prosecution after 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.

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 involving 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 a man was shot 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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Associated Press writers Phil Rawls in Montgomery and Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.

 

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