Three 16-year-old girls accused of killing another teenager in Alabama this summer savagely beat the victim with a metal pole, dumped her in a creek and then casually drove to a nearby McDonald’s where they had smoothies for breakfast, a police detective testified this week.
The early-morning restaurant stop happened just moments after Lesley Luna Pantaleon, 17, was beaten, stabbed and dumped into a creek following an apparent dispute over a gun on June 24, Detective Ashley Brown told a court during a preliminary hearing Tuesday, according to the Montgomery Advertiser .
The victim’s body was found in the water near Montgomery’s airport about 10 days later, but she sustained so many fractures that the exact cause of her death has never been determined.
The three suspects — Ta’Niya Merriweather, Erin Taylor and Tyeshia Whisenant — were each charged with capital murder and are being prosecuted as adults.
The alleged killers have denied or minimized their involvement in the assault while contradicting each other’s testimonies. The trio, however, agrees that the dispute began with a missing gun, the Advertiser reported.
Brown told the court that Pantaleon allegedly “put out a hit” on the address where Whisenant lived after learning someone at that home may have taken her weapon. When Pantaleon went to the home to get her gun back, she and Whisenant got into a fight, the detective reportedly said.
Whisenant, her two co-defendants and an unidentified boy then got into Pantaleon’s Chevrolet Trailblazer with the victim and drove away, according to police. Taylor, who was driving the car, eventually stopped in a wooded area where the group launched their brutal attack on the victim, Brown said.
It’s still unclear if the boy has been charged in the case as juvenile records are sealed from the public. Whisenant allegedly told the group that Pantaleon, whose feet were still moving, “needed to be taken care of,” so they put her back in the car and threw her in the river, where the victim appeared to be trying to swim before dying, according to Brown’s testimony.
The attackers then drove the Trailblazer to McDonald’s at 6 a.m. and abandoned the car at a church moments later, authorities said.
The three girls are being held without bail.
What happened is terrible. It's not capital murder,' said Whisenant's lawyer, Ben Schoettker, according to the Advertiser. 'There's no evidence that they killed this person to get a car and a cellphone. They killed this person because of a dispute, and it got out of hand. No one wanted her car or her cellphone.'
Prosecutor Scott Green argued that Taylor used Pantaleon's phone as if it were hers after the alleged killing. 'This phone is evidence in a murder. She was caught with that phone,' Green said, reported the Advertiser. 'They took her stuff and they took her and they beat her more and threw her in the creek to drown her or for her to die from her injuries.
She would have been better off in a car with four monsters than with these people,' Green said later in the hearing. Judge Monet Gaines said she was skeptical of Green's reasoning that robbery was a motive. 'I do not believe these defendants at this age have the same mindset you're saying they did,' she said. The judge said she would rule later on the bond requests and whether the case would remain a capital murder.