Grand Jury Will Hear Case Against Auburn Shooting Suspect


By Tamika Bickham

The case against suspected Auburn shooter Desmonte Leonard will now go to a grand jury. Leonard appeared before a judge today. He faces three capital murder charges and two charges of second degree assault.

Wednesday was the first time we've heard witness testimony about what happened at that fatal pool party near Auburn's campus last month. Three were killed, including two former Auburn football players, and three others were wounded.

Desmonte Leonard appeared in an Opelika courtroom wearing a black and white jumpsuit and sitting behind him were close to 30 family members and friends. The 22-year-old suspect and his legal team, for the first time, saw some of the state's evidence against him including surveillance video from the shooting, but no one could be clearly identified.

"There were a lot of people that were coming and gonig. This is just a tragic event that happened and to see it unfold that way is just upsetting," said Susan James, Leonard's attorney.

Detective Jude Hackett with Auburn Police responded to that scene and testified Wednesday for the state. Hackett said according to witness accounts Demario Pitts hit Leonard with a bottle prior to gunshots being fired. Hackett said 23-year-old Turquorius Vines identified Leonard as the gunman who killed three people, including Pitts.

"It was clear that the only evidence that they indicated they have right now linking Mr. Leonard being the shooter, is a statement from Mr. Vines, who they indicated is the initial aggressor," said James, "We believe that there will be sufficient evidence that there was a substantial amount of alcohol consumed. Obviously we asked those questions because a witness identification could be impaired if they are under the influence of alcohol or something else."

While the defense had prepared three witnesses, only Tchonda Stephens was called to the stand. Stephens said she invited Leonard to the party, but said she never saw him, or anyone else, with a weapon.

"We were pleased with her willingness to come forward. I'm sure it was a difficult thing for her to do, but clearly out of her testimony we believe the fact that she did know him, that he was invited to the party, that he was not an aggresor, and that someone else was starting the trouble," said James.

The prosecution did not offer any comment.

After the hearing, someone who said he's a longtime friend of Leonard's told CBS 8 "it's in God's hands now".

Desmonte Leonard faces three capital murder charges and two second degree assault charges. The two former Auburn football players killed were Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian, along with Demario Pitts.

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