Former Auburn football player tells jurors what happened before slaying at pool party



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FILE -In this Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 file photo, Desmonte Leonard enters the courtroom before opening statements in Opelika, Ala. A Lee County judge told jurors to return Monday morning for a second day of testimony in the capital murder trial of 24-year-old Desmonte Leonard of Montgomery. Prosecutors say Leonard opened fire at a large party at an apartment clubhouse in June 2012. Three people were killed and three others were injured. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Todd J. Van Emst)


OPELIKA, Alabama — A former Auburn University football player testified Tuesday that an argument broke out shortly before a shooting that wounded him and killed two former teammates at a pool party in 2012.

Former lineman Eric Mack said teammate DeAngelo Benton began arguing inside an apartment complex clubhouse with Desmonte Leonard, 24, who is on trial for capital murder in the shooting. Partiers had been consuming "Jell-O shots" made of the dessert gelatin and alcohol, he said.

Mack said the dispute got "loud (and) heated," so he took Benton outside in an attempt to calm him down, and one-time teammates Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips soon followed.

Identifying people and events in a surveillance video of the scene played by prosecutors for jurors, Mack said he kept Benton pinned against a wall and "a bunch of football players came out" with the woman who threw the party.

Gunfire erupted in a breezeway near a parking lot after about four minutes of discussion, according to the soundless video and testimony.

"I think I heard like some glass breaking. Then I heard gunshots," said Mack. He was shot in the buttocks but testified he didn't see the gunman or what prompted the shooting.

Mack was among three people wounded. His testimony about breaking glass could be important since Leonard's attorneys argue he fired in self-defense during an attack in which partygoer DeMario Pitts struck Leonard with a bottle.

Christopher Traywick, a friend of Leonard, and another man at the party, Turquorius Vines, testified that Pitts hit Traywick in the face with a bottle, knocking out three teeth, moments before shooting began.

Traywick said Benton threatened to kill Leonard as they argued over a woman. Vines testified that Leonard pulled a gun inside the clubhouse — something no other witness mentioned and he didn't tell police initially — and walked out of the clubhouse saying he would kill someone.

The two other people who were wounded, Xavier Moss and John Robertson, recalled an argument and fleeing at the crack of the gun.

"I attempted to run then I got shot in the head," said Robertson, who underwent brain surgery and spent a month in the hospital.

Pitts was shot and killed, along with Christian, a one-time Auburn lineman, and Phillips, who had played running back before leaving the team.

Dr. Stephen Boudreau, a state medical examiner, testified that at least some of the slugs traveled upward through the victims' bodies, possibly meshing with defense claims that Leonard was on the ground being beaten when he pulled out a .40-caliber gun and opened fire to protect himself. But Boudreau said he couldn't determine where the victims or gunman might have been.

"I can't tell the position of the shooter or the person being shot," he said.

Benton downplayed his dispute with Leonard, saying he wasn't even sure what it was about.

"It wouldn't really call it an argument. I just felt like someone was watching me," he testified. "I said like, 'Do you know me?"

While the video showed Benton appearing agitated and struggling with Mack, Benton denied ever threatening Leonard and said he was just "upset."

Benton said he had been drinking alcohol but denied being intoxicated. Under questioning from defense attorney Susan James, Benton also denied smoking the synthetic marijuana product known as "spice" the night of the party.

The question about drug use was related to another violent episode involving Auburn football players. Evidence in the cases of four former Auburn football players charged with a 2011 robbery showed that three of them had smoked spice with Benton before the holdup.

James asked Benton about the last time he had smoked the drug, but the prosecution objected and the judge wouldn't allow an answer from Benton, who was kicked off the team in August 2012.

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