Lee County courts were busy trying to keep up with crime in 2019.
Several defendants faced capital-murder charges. One man convicted of capital murder filed a motion to overturn his death sentence, and another case went before the state supreme court.
Several of these cases are still pending, and the following is an update on their status:
Yazeed is charged with two counts of capital murder in connection with the kidnapping and death of 19-year-old 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 Yazeed forced Blanchard into her own vehicle against her will, according to previous reports.
Investigators said they found a witness who claimed to see a young woman matching Blanchard’s description being forced into the car while parked in the Chevron lot Oct. 23.
The witness told police the assailant looked like Yazeed.
“He said he observed Blanchard and a black male, later positively identified as Ibraheem Yazeed, at the store at the same time, and he observed Yazeed forcing Blanchard into her vehicle against her will and then leaving with her in that vehicle,” Auburn police Detective Josh Mixon testified during Yazeed’s preliminary hearing.
Lee County Judge Russell Bush found probable cause during Yazeed’s preliminary hearing for first-degree kidnapping, sending the case to a grand jury. There is no indication when a grand jury will hear the case.
Blanchard’s remains were not located until Nov. 25 in the 38000 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.
The former Alabama Speaker of the House was convicted of 11 felony ethics charges and in 2019 had his appeal heard by the Alabama Supreme Court.
The court heard Hubbard’s appeal in June, but no indication was given of when the ruling would be made.
Hubbard was convicted in 2016 on 12 felony ethics charges of using his public office for personal gain. In August 2018, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed 11 of the 12 convictions.
Should the appeal fail, Hubbard would need to serve the four-year sentence in state prison. He has yet to report to prison and remains free on bond as he awaits the court’s decision.
Hubbard is represented by Sam Heldman. Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour Jr. is prosecuting the case for the state.
Derrill Ennis is charged with the capital murder of Lori Ann Slesinski.
Slesinski was to attend a friend’s party 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 2018.
Since his incarceration, Ennis has undergone a psychology test to see if he is mentally fit to stand trial.
The tests determined that Ennis is able to dos, according to court documents.
Ennis’ case is set to go to trial Aug. 31.
James Don Johnson
James Don Johnson is one of two suspects charged in connection with the sexual assault of an 18-year-old Auburn University student in September 2017 on a Tiger Transit bus.
Tony Patillo, of Columbus, Ga., was convicted in March of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy and public lewdness. He was sentenced to more than 21 years by Judge Christopher Hughes in April.
Johnson was indicted in January 2018 on felony charges first-degree rape-helpless and first-degree sodomy-incapacitated.
Johnson was driving a Tiger Transit bus in which the attack happened and is accused of “engaging with actions to perpetuate the crime while Patillo was in the rear of the bus assaulting the victim.”
Johnson’s case was to be heard by a Lee County jury in November, but his attorney asked for a continuance. His case is expected to go to trial in 2020, according to court records.
Lockhart was convicted in 2010 for the 2008 capital murder of Auburn University student Lauren Burk. He is challenging his death sentence in Lee County court, via a petition filed in September 2015.
Lee County Judge Jacob Walker overrode the jury’s recommendation to sentence Lockhart to life without parole in 2011, and he ultimately sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Lockhart’s Rule 32 petition hearing first began in December 2018 in Walker’s courtroom at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika, but was continued in February 2019.
Lockhart is represented by attorneys through the Equal Justice Initiative at no charge.
The replies to the hearing from Lockhart’s attorneys, as well as state prosecutors, were all submitted to the court by August.
There is no indication when the court will rule on Lockhart’s petition.
The 16-year-old is charged as an adult with two counts of manslaughter-reckless in connection with the crash that killed Rod Bramblett, “The Voice of the Auburn Tigers,” and his wife, Paula Bramblett, in May.
Taylor was initially given a bond, but that was revoked Dec. 18 after his being issued three traffic citations within a two-day span in November — involving traveling at a high rate of speed and driving recklessly, according to a motion filed Dec. 14 by the Lee County District Attorney’s Office.
Officers also smelled marijuana and found marijuana residue in Taylor’s vehicle during one of the stops, the motion says.
Lee County Judge Russell Bush also ordered Taylor to a rehab facility at the Dec. 18 hearing, and he was taken into the custody of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office until he leaves for rehab.
If Taylor attempts to leave the facility, it would like walking out of the Lee County Jail. He will return to the jail once he completes treatment, officials said.
Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said Taylor’s attorney, Tommy Spina, could file a motion to place Taylor back on bond once he returns from rehab.
Investigators determined from car data and other evidence that Taylor was traveling 89-91 mph at the time of the crash that killed the Brambletts, and there was no evidence that he tried to brake before impact, according to court filings.
A toxicology analysis report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences indicated a blood sample from Taylor contained THC. He told police that he fell asleep while driving and did not remember what happened, according to the traffic crash report.
Taylor was arrested and charged July 1, and was to have a preliminary hearing later that month.
He later withdrew his request for a hearing, and his case has been forwarded to the grand jury.
There is no indication as to when a grand jury will hear Taylor’s case.
Updyke was expected back in Lee County court in October to tell the judge why he has not been making his restitution payments, but he failed to show.
The Lee County District Attorney’s Office asked for a warrant for Updyke, who confessed in 2013 to poisoning the Toomer’s Oaks after Auburn’s 2010 Iron Bowl victory.
Updyke hasn’t been keeping up payments on his court-ordered $816,694.98 in restitution to Auburn University and court costs, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said.
Lee County Judge Jacob Walker ruled that Hughes’ office needs to use the time to assess a letter from Updyke’s daughter stating why he couldn’t appear, plus submit a certified copy of the restitution payment record.
Walker gave the office a month to gather more information before he would decide on issuing an arrest warrant.
The Lee County District Attorney’s Office is expected to file a response soon.
Since failing to appear for the hearing, Updyke has made more than $3,000 in restitution payments, according to court records, but he still has to pay $808,114.48, records showed last month.
Grady Wayne Wilkes
Wilkes is charged in the May 19 shooting at Arrowhead Trailer Park in Auburn that left Auburn police Officer William Buechner dead and two other officers injured.
Wilkes did not request a preliminary hearing, and his case is waiting to be heard by a Lee County grand jury.
Defendants in the state of Alabama have 30 days after their arrest to request a preliminary hearing, according to Alabama law. There is no timetable for when Wilkes’ case will be presented to a grand jury.
He is facing the death penalty if convicted.
Wilkes was arrested May 20 and is charged with capital murder of a law enforcement officer, three counts of attempted murder and second-degree domestic violence (strangulation/suffocation).
Wilkes was denied bond by Judge Christopher Hughes in May. He remains at the Lee County Jail.
Wilkes is represented by William Whatley, who filed for Juliana Taylor to be co-counsel for Wilkes on June 30, according to court documents.
There has been nothing filed in Wilkes’ case since July.