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Jury set for trial in ex-Auburn players’ slayings

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) Attorneys selected a jury Thursday for the capital murder trial of a man charged with killing two one-time Auburn University football players and a third person at a party more than two years ago.

The judge told the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates to return Friday afternoon for opening statements in the trial of Desmonte Leonard, 24, of Montgomery.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Leonard in the shooting, which wounded three more people during a party at an apartment clubhouse near the Auburn campus on June 9, 2012. The dead included former Auburn football players Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian, plus DeMario Pitts of Opelika.

Leonard surrendered to authorities after a three-day manhunt and has pleaded not guilty.

The defense says the shooting was in self-defense, and a ruling by the judge after jury selection could help them make the case.

Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III said he would allow limited testimony by a clinical psychologist, Lauren Reba-Harrelson, who testified during a hearing that Leonard was shot in the abdomen in 2008 and now has a ”heightened sense of awareness” to threats to that part of his body.

Prosecutors argued that jurors shouldn’t be allowed to hear the testimony since Leonard isn’t using an insanity defense, but the judge said the defense could use the testimony for limited purposes of showing why Leonard might have been fearful.

Evidence during an earlier hearing showed Leonard argued with an Auburn football player at the party, and Pitts hit Leonard with a bottle before the shooting began. Police have said the shooting wasn’t linked to victims’ status as athletes.

Christian had quit the team because of a lingering back injury and Phillips was transferring to Jacksonville State University. The wounded included former Auburn player Eric Mack and two Roanoke men, Xavier Moss and John Robertson.

Leonard is charged attempted murder and assault in addition to the murder counts. He has been jailed since his arrest.

During the search for Leonard, police swarmed a rental home in Montgomery on June 11, 2012. They said heat-sensitive equipment indicated someone was hiding in the attic, but they never found anyone.

The owner of the home, Yakemi Ward of Prattville, is suing city and federal law enforcement in federal court, saying they destroyed walls and ceilings, tore apart the air conditioning system and ruined the interior by firing more than 30 canisters of tear gas into the home.

The suit says the home couldn’t be rented for a year and had to be gutted. The defendants are seeking to have the suit dismissed.

AP writer Phillip Rawls contributed to this report from Montgomery

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