OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) – Police described the bloody, chaotic aftermath of a shooting that killed two former Auburn University football players and another man as testimony began Friday in the trial of a man charged in the slayings.
Prosecutors asked jurors in opening statements to convict Desmonte Leonard, 24, of capital murder and other charges in the shootings on June 9, 2012.
But the defense cited Alabama’s “stand your ground” law and argued that Leonard opened fire in self-defense only after being attacked.
The first officers to arrive at the scene said they saw a big man lying motionless on a sidewalk and another, former Auburn player Ed Christian, face down in a flower bed outside an apartment complex clubhouse where a big party was held.
John Robertson, who was fighting for his life and survived, lay in a pool of blood, said. Sgt. Darrell Downing. Dozens of people were at the party, and some knocked out screens as they jumped through open windows fleeing gunfire, he said.
“There were multiple people running in every direction,” said Downing. “Just mass chaos.”
Members of the victims’ families, who filled nearly half the courtroom, wept silently as Downing testified. Later they dabbed away tears as prosecutors showed jurors crime scene photos on a TV screen.
Leonard, wearing a bright green shirt and tie, sat quietly between his attorneys.
Aside from Christian, the dead were former Auburn football players Ladarious Phillips and DeMario Pitts of Opelika.
Former Auburn player Eric Mack and Xavier Moss were wounded but survived, along with Robertson.
Demarco Phillips, who attended the party, said an argument broke out inside the clubhouse and “a whole bunch of Auburn football players” tried to break it up, including Christian, Phillips and Mack.
The dispute moved outside, he said, and shooting began moments later. Phillips said he didn’t see the gunfire and didn’t know what prompted it.
Assistant District Attorney Kisha Abercrombie told jurors in opening statements that Leonard began shooting after a verbal dispute with another partygoer, DeAngelo Benton, escalated into a fistfight. Leonard pulled out a .40-caliber pistol while four others were fighting, she said.
“We have witnesses in the case who will testify that it was Mr. Leonard that fired the shots that killed three people and wounded three,” she said.
Surveillance video from the clubhouse shows people running for cover and bullets ricocheting, she said, but the camera didn’t catch images of the shooter.
The defense concedes Leonard was the gunman but says he fired in self-defense. Leonard attorney Jeff Duffey told jurors his client was on the ground being beaten when he fired because he “thought he was going to die.”
Leonard was justified in shooting because Alabama law gives someone the right to fight back when under attack, Duffey said.
“That’s really what this case is about, the stand your ground law,” he said. Leonard feared for his life as Pitts beat him with empty beer and liquor bottles, said Duffey.
Leonard fled the apartments with two friends, prosecutors said, and the three went separate ways after ditching the car; police found the gun on a roadside. Leonard surrendered after an intense manhunt that included Montgomery police ripping apart a home where they wrongly believed he was hiding.
Court officials say testimony could last as long as three weeks.
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