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Auburn shooting suspect surrenders -- with snipers standing by

June 13, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson

The three-day search for the man charged with a triple homicide near Auburn University ended peacefully Tuesday night when the suspect walked up the steps of an Alabama courthouse and surrendered to a U.S. Marshal inside.

Desmonte Leonard, 22, was charged with three counts of capital murder and booked into a jail in Montgomery County.  He will make a preliminary court appearance Wednesday or Thursday.

Leonard had been in hiding since Saturday, when authorities say he opened fire at a pool party in an off-campus apartment complex. Two former Auburn football players were among the dead. A current player was wounded. Tips poured in after police posted a $30,000 reward. Two led police to a tense, nine-hour search of a house in Montgomery, which they eventually determined was empty.

“He was very tired, and very relieved to be –- well, not that anyone looks forward to going to jail, but to get into a spot where he can tell his side of the story,” his attorney, Susan James, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This had gotten to a frenzied proportion.”

At noon Monday, James said, she received a text message from her office. Leonard’s family had contacted the office, the message read. He wanted to surrender.

James agreed to negotiate the surrender with the U.S. Marshal’s office. She presented three conditions: absolute safety for herself and Leonard; no media at the time of surrender; and jail time somewhere other than Lee County, where Auburn is located. James said she has not been retained, but agreed to help Leonard.

“I don’t know if you know much about Southern football,” James said. “But it’s a very, very heated situation because of who the victims were. There may be people in the jail that would want to harm him.”

James and her son, a private investigator, drove 50 miles from Montgomery to pick up Leonard, she said. Leonard got in the car at a designated pick-up point. They drove. They talked.

In Montgomery, snipers peered from the roof of the county courthouse and armed officers waited inside. Leonard seemed calm as he walked up the steps around 7:50 p.m., James said. He was handcuffed, searched and arrested.

Saturday night, law enforcement responded to a 911 call at an apartment complex near Auburn. They found 20-year-old Edward Christian, who had been sidelined with an injury, and 20-year-old former player Ladarious Phillips dead. The other victim was Demario Pitts, 20.

Turquorius Vines, 23, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had been partying with friends and former football players at the University Heights apartment complex when a fight broke out.

"It was about a female," Vines said. "It started from a female. We were trying to get away from the trouble and it ended up right in our face."

Vines told the Associated Press that he and Pitts got into a fight with two men he had never seen before, and one or both of the strangers opened fire.

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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