- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - A man on trial in the gunshot slayings of two one-time Auburn University football players and another person testified Friday he was being attacked and feared for his life when he pulled out a pistol and began shooting at a party.

“Even if I’d had a slingshot or anything I’d have used it to the best of my ability,” Desmonte Leonard told jurors during cross-examination. “I just happened to have a gun.”

Leonard, 24, took the stand immediately after prosecutors rested their case. Charged with capital murder, attempted murder and assault, the Montgomery man could be sentenced to death if convicted, but he also could be convicted on lesser charges under state law or acquitted.

Three people were killed and three others were wounded in June 2012 at a party that Leonard said a woman invited him to attend at an apartment clubhouse.

Prosecution witnesses testified that Leonard stood on the sidelines of a fight between others before pulling a gun out of his pants and opening fire. None of the prosecution witnesses testified they saw Leonard being assaulted.

But the defense argues Leonard was attacked and fired only in self-defense.

Wearing a dress shirt and tie, Leonard depicted himself as an outsider at a party that included big Auburn football players, one of whom threatened to kill him.

Leonard said he and then-Auburn football player DeAngelo Benton got into a verbal dispute during the party while Leonard was talking to a woman.

“I still don’t know to this day why he was so mad,” said Leonard. Other witnesses said Benton was upset because he thought Leonard was staring at him.

Leonard said people moved outside the clubhouse and things escalated into a fistfight that didn’t initially involve him. Then, he said, someone hit one of his friends with a bottle.

“Immediately after that he struck me with a bottle,” Leonard said. “I dropped to the ground. I just remember feeling hard kicks.”

Leonard, who said he still suffers physical problems from a 2008 shooting in the abdomen, said he was afraid of dying and had to act fast.

“I couldn’t get up and something clicked. I was forced to make a quick decision,” he said.

Leonard said he rolled over, pulled a gun out of his pants, covered his face and began shooting. He said people quickly scattered.

“When that happened I knew I was safe,” Leonard said. Leonard drove away with two friends in a car that was later found abandoned a few miles away.

Leonard said he didn’t know anyone had been shot until the next morning, when he heard on the news at an uncle’s house that he was wanted for capital murder. Leonard surrendered at the federal courthouse in Montgomery following a three-day manhunt that included Montgomery police ripping apart a house where they wrongly believed he was hiding.

Bolstering defense claims that Leonard was susceptible to fear because of the physical and mental trauma of the ‘08 shooting, which the defendant said required three operations, psychologist Dr. Lauren Reba-Harrelson said the lingering effects of the injury could cause him to have an enhanced reaction to an attack or a threat.

But District Attorney Robbie Treese suggested Leonard’s injuries from the shooting six years ago weren’t as severe as he claimed, and he got Reba-Harrelson to say that the typical reaction to a possible threat would be for someone to flee, not shoot people.

Treese also suggested that Leonard wasn’t really assaulted the night of the shooting in Auburn. Pointing to a photo that showed a small wound to the tip of one of Leonard’s fingers, Treese asked Leonard: “You got that from being stomped on?”

“It all came from that incident,” said Leonard. He said he also had a small knot on his head and cuts on his arms.

Former Auburn football players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips were killed along with DeMario Pitts.

Then-Auburn football player Eric Mack, John Robertson and Xavier Moss all were injured and testified for the prosecution.

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