Crime in Lee County did not slow down in 2020, and many important cases are still waiting for their turn through the judicial process in 2021 due to delays to court proceedings from the coronavirus pandemic.
Several defendants are facing capital murder charges, while others are facing felony charges of ethics violations, manslaughter, child abuse or kidnapping.
Many of these cases are still pending, and below is an update on where they stand:
Grady Wayne Wilkes
Wilkes, 30, of Auburn, is charged in the May 19, 2019, shooting at Arrowhead Trailer Park in Auburn that killed Auburn police Officer William Buechner and injured officers Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott.
Wilkes was arrested May 20, 2019, and charged with capital murder of a law enforcement officer, three counts of attempted murder and second-degree domestic violence (strangulation/suffocation). Wilkes did not request a preliminary hearing and was indicted on the charges on Sept. 17 by a Lee County grand jury.
Wilkes was arraigned Oct. 23 in Judge Christopher Hughes’ courtroom, where he was formally charged and pled not guilty to all charges by reason of mental disease or defect.
“Because he’s claimed mental disease or defect, there will be evaluations that need to be done by mental health experts, and their reports will guide the parties and the court with how that case should proceed,” District Attorney Pro Tem Jessica Ventiere said.
Wilkes is facing the death penalty if convicted. There is no timetable for when his case will be heard by a jury.
Ennis is charged with the capital murder of Lori Ann Slesinski.
Slesinski was to attend a friend’s party on June 10, 2006, but never arrived. She was reported missing a few days later by her mother after she didn’t show up for work and could not be reached by family or friends, according to previous reports.
Police found Slesinski’s car June 14, 2006, engulfed in flames at the dead end of DeKalb Street in Auburn, near the bowling alley on Opelika Road where Creekside and Aspen Heights currently stand.
Ennis was a person of interest in the case but moved from Auburn after being questioned by police. Authorities arrested and charged Ennis on grand jury indictments of capital murder-burglary and capital murder-kidnapping 12 years later, in August of 2018.
Since his incarceration, Ennis has undergone a psychological test to see if he is mentally fit to stand trial.
The tests determined that Ennis is able to do so, according to court documents.
Ennis’ case was originally set to go to trial Aug. 31, but was pushed back to a tentative date of Aug. 2, 2021, due to delays related to difficulties in conducting a jury trial during a pandemic, Ventiere said.
Wang, a student at Auburn University, is charged with two counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the Oct. 22 stabbings of an Auburn faculty member and his wife at their home in The Oaks Neighborhood off Richland Road in Auburn.
Wang appeared in court Dec. 21 for a preliminary hearing in the case. Lee County Judge Russell Bush found probable cause and forwarded the case to a grand jury.
Wang stabbed Lijuan Xuan 23 times and killed him, and he stabbed Zhengzheng Wu about 60 times, police said at the hearing. Wu received treatment for weeks before being released.
Xuan and Wu’s two children, ages 8 and 5, were in the house while the assault occurred before being told to run outside by their mother, Auburn police said after speaking to Wu when she was released from hospital care.
After the couple was stabbed, police said they received a call from Wang who told them he had killed a family and asked them to come to the house.
“I killed people. I killed a family,” Wang said in a recording of the 911 call that was played during the preliminary hearing. “Not [an] accident. I killed them by myself. I wanted to kill them.”
When they arrived, Wang did not resist arrest and complied with officers, according to police.
Defense attorneys said Wang was upset with how he was treated when he lived with Xuan and Wu, and there was a dispute about money that Wang owed to the couple.
Wang’s case is waiting to be sent to a grand jury for consideration of indictment, though a specific date has not yet been set, Ventiere said.
Yazeed, 30, of Montgomery, is charged in the kidnapping and capital murder of 19-year-old Southern Union student Aniah Blanchard.
Yazeed was originally charged with first-degree kidnapping after the investigation into the Southern Union State Community College student’s disappearance revealed that he forced Blanchard into her own vehicle against her will, according to previous reports.
Blanchard’s remains were not located until Nov. 25 in the 38,000 block of County Road 2 in Shorter. Her remains were found several feet into the wood line after a brief search, according to previous reports.
An autopsy performed by the medical examiner’s office revealed that Blanchard’s manner of death was a homicide and the cause of death was a gunshot wound.
Yazeed was charged with capital murder-kidnapping and capital murder-use of a deadly weapon while victim is inside a vehicle. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. He is being held in the Lee County Jail without bond.
At a preliminary hearing June 3, Judge Russell Bush found probable cause to send Yazeed’s capital murder case to a Lee County grand jury.
Yazeed also appeared in court in May for a second-degree assault charge in connection to a jail altercation, in which he is said to have bitten a corrections officer.
He appeared before Lee County Judge Steve Speakman on May 27. Speakman found probable cause to send Yazeed’s second-degree assault case to a grand jury.
Lee County District Attorney Hughes turned himself in to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Nov. 8 on multiple felony charges including several ethics violations, one count of conspiracy and one count of first-degree perjury.
Hughes’ ethics charges are in reference to him using his office for personal gain, including paying private attorneys with public funds to settle a matter that benefited himself and his wife. The charges are also in connection to Hughes’ illegal hiring of his three children to work for the Lee County District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office said.
Hughes is also charged with conspiring to steal a pickup truck from a Chambers County business by allegedly using a Lee County search warrant to force the business to release the pickup truck, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Hughes was booked into the Montgomery County Jail Nov. 9 after the Alabama Attorney General’s Office charged him with an additional count of perjury.
Hughes, who was elected as district attorney in 2016, self-reported a possible ethics violation to the Alabama Ethics Commission earlier this year. The perjury charge comes from statements Hughes made to the commission regarding a sexual discrimination claim to his office from a former assistant district attorney.
During the ethics commission hearing, Hughes said the claim was not related to racial or sexual discrimination, according to a transcript of the hearing.
During a preliminary hearing for his perjury charge in Montgomery on Dec. 3, prosecuting attorneys presented a $14,000 check from the district attorney’s fund that was used to pay for the legal expenses that resulted from the sexual discrimination claim, and Montgomery County District Judge Pamela Higgins found probable cause to send the case to a grand jury.
Kylla Michelle Mann, Pamela Deloris Bond and James H. Bond
Pamela Bond, 66, James Bond, 69, and Kylla Mann, 30, were arrested Jan. 15 on several warrants for child abuse and reckless endangerment.
The charges came after investigators and personnel from the Lee County Department of Human Resources conducted a welfare check at a residence in the 5000 block of Lee Road 246.
Investigators found four children, ages 3, 4, 10 and 11 years old, and two wooden cages with hasps and locks on them. The cages contained cockroaches and feces, and evidence revealed that the children had been locked in them on multiple occasions, authorities said.
The children were removed the night of the welfare check and are in the care of the county’s Department of Human Resources, reports said.
The three were indicted on the charges by a grand jury in October. A jury trial for the case has been tentatively set for Feb. 8, 2021.
Taharra Jaquay Brunson, Marcus Okeef Wigley and Damian Timez Williams
Brunson, Wigley and Williams are facing felony kidnapping charges in connection to a missing Auburn teen who was found dead Sept. 10.
Thomas A. Green, 18, of Auburn, was found dead in western Lee County on rural Lee Road 188, between Loachapoka and Waverly. Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said Green was injured before his death.
Brunson, 41, and Wigley, 35, were arrested Sept. 10 on felony warrants charging them both with one count of first-degree kidnapping, Auburn police said.
Williams, 29, of Auburn, was also arrested on a felony warrant Sept. 11 charging him with one count of first degree kidnapping, police said.
At Brunson’s preliminary hearing on Oct. 20, police said the three suspects allegedly involved in the kidnapping of Green — Brunson, Wigley and Williams — were seen by multiple witnesses putting Green into a car in the early hours of Sept. 5 after Green was reported missing on Sept. 4.
Judge Russell Bush found probable cause to forward the charges against Wigley and Brunson to a grand jury at their preliminary hearings on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, respectively. The charges against Williams are pending a probable cause determination.
None of the three have been charged with homicide in connection to Green’s death.
Taylor, 17, was charged as an adult with two counts of manslaughter-reckless in connection with the May 25, 2019, car crash that killed Rod and Paula Bramblett.
Investigators said the teenager plowed into the couple’s vehicle traveling at about 90 mph in an area of Shug Jordan Parkway with a speed limit of 55 mph.
A toxicology analysis report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences indicated a blood sample from Taylor contained THC.
Taylor’s bond was revoked in December 2019 due to traffic citations for speeding and reckless driving that he was issued in November 2019.
Although his bond was revoked, Taylor was transferred from the Lee County Detention Facility to a rehabilitation facility for treatment.
Taylor was indicted on two counts of manslaughter-reckless by a Lee County grand jury Jan. 16. The next step in the process will be a jury trial with no date yet set.
All local judges have recused themselves from the case, and the Alabama Supreme Court ordered that retired Circuit Judge Philip McLauchlin, Jr., of Dale County, be appointed to oversee the case.
Anthony Douglas Marshall
Marshall, 30, was arrested and charged with 10 counts of child pornography, one count of first-degree sodomy, one count of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years of age and one count of material harmful to minors on Sept. 30, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office received a report regarding possible sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years of age on Sept. 4. Authorities were then able to obtain multiple search warrants after the subsequent investigation. The Lee County sheriff’s investigators executed the search warrants with assistance of the Lanett Police Department, authorities said.
Authorities were able to secure evidence during the searches, which led to warrants being issued for the arrest of Marshall, authorities added.
Information about the victims is being withheld for their protection. Marshall was being held in the Lee County Detention Center on a $175,500 bond before making bond and being released Sept. 30, according to court documents.
A preliminary hearing for Marshall’s case is tentatively set for early 2021.
Brandon Thomas Hart
Hart, 31, was arrested and charged Sept. 22 after Lee County Sheriff’s deputies and FBI investigators executed a search warrant on Lee Road 560 in Smiths Station in reference to possible dissemination of child pornography, according to authorities.
Hart was charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a child less than 12, four counts of first-degree sodomy, one count of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of first-degree sexual torture, six counts of production of child pornography, and seven counts of possession of child pornography, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators discovered additional evidence that led to 19 additional felony charges against him on Sept. 28, including one count of first-degree rape, five counts of first-degree sodomy, three counts of first-degree voyeurism, six counts of production of child pornography, one count of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old, and two counts of sexual torture.
Authorities are withholding specific information to protect the identities of the victims.
Hart is being held in the Lee County Jail with bond set at $2.1 million. The investigation is ongoing, and more charges are expected, authorities said.
“There has not, at this time, been a request for a preliminary hearing, so at some point it will roll over to the grand jury,” Ventiere said.