By Jay Reeves and Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A man accused of killing three people at a party near Auburn University turned himself in Tuesday after a three-day manhunt that included a tense but fruitless search of a Montgomery home by police tactical units.
A Montgomery defense attorney said she arranged for Desmonte Leonard to surrender after getting word that his family wanted her help. Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said the suspect was taken into custody at 7:57 p.m. by a U.S. Marshal at the federal courthouse in Montgomery.
His surrender was a low-key ending to a search that included the inch-by-inch scouring of the house by police armed with tear gas and spy gear. Hours after police conceded Leonard had evaded them at the house, Dawson said the suspect walked up the courthouse steps and surrendered peacefully to the marshal waiting just inside.
“It’s been a trying case for all law enforcement involved,” Dawson said at a news conference.
Leonard, 22, is charged with three counts of capital murder in a shooting Saturday night after a fight over a woman. He is accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn football players, and a current player was among the injured.
Dawson said that Leonard was being booked into a jail in Montgomery and will be moved to Opelika near the university for a first court appearance on Wednesday or Thursday.
After getting word that Leonard wanted help, Montgomery defense attorney Susan James said she contacted U.S. Marshals. Then she and her son, who works for her as an investigator, picked up Leonard. 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.
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. 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,” he said.
Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during their search for Leonard, and Police Chief Kevin Murphy said the man who ferried Leonard to the home could be arrested on similar charges.
Police surrounded a house in Montgomery Monday afternoon thinking Leonard was inside after they received two solid tips. They swarmed the home 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.
But after midnight, they acknowledged they hadn’t heard coughing noises or movement for several hours. Officials said officers found nothing in the attic — not even an animal that might have fooled detection devices.
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.
Leonard had a connection to the house through someone other than the owner, said the city’s public safety director, Chris Murphy. He declined to elaborate. The woman is not accused of any wrongdoing.
AP writer Bob Johnson contributed to this report from Auburn.