Three Alabama teens were in court this week for the brutal beating of a friend who was found dead earlier this year in Montgomery.
The Montgomery Advisor reports that Ta’Niya Merriweather, Erin Taylor and Tyeshia Whisenant, all 16, appeared during a preliminary hearing this week in connection with the murder of Lesley Luna Pantaleon.
According to testimony, Pantaleon was reported by her parents on June 24, leaving in a blue 2006 Chevy Trailblazer. Crime Stoppers put out an alert about her five days later, but police say she was already dead, killed on the day she disappeared.
On July 4, authorities found skeletal remains close to Catoma Creek and Old Selma Road in Montgomery, which were later identified Pantaleon. Cellphone records led investigators to the suspects.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Montgomery police Capt. Saba Coleman said the investigation revealed that Pantaleon was involved in a fight with the other girls and was killed late in the afternoon. Her vehicle and cell phone were taken after her death.
In court Tuesday, Detective Ashley Brown testified that the fight began over a missing gun. Before her death, Pantaleon went to retrieve the gun from a residence off of Gibbs Village. When she arrived, she got into an altercation with Whisenant before she left in the Trailblazer with all three defendants and a teen boy.
Brown said that while in the backseat of the vehicle, Pantaleon and Whisenant reportedly began fighting again while Taylor, who was driving, pulled over off of Old Selma Road in a secluded, wooded area. From there, the defendants are accused of beating the victim to death with a metal pole.
Pantaleon was then stabbed, but the suspects alleged that the teen boy was the one who had a pocket knife. Brown declined to say whether he’s been charged in connection with the case.
Afterward, the defendants and the boy left the scene and drove to a friend’s house, where they confessed to what they did, Brown said. The defendants then took the friend back to scene to see Pantaleon’s body.
The witness told investigators that when they arrived at the scene, she could see that Pantaleon’s feet were still moving. Whisentant then allegedly said that Pantaleon needed to be “taken care of.”
The defendant’s picked up Pantaleon and put her in the back of the vehicle, along with the metal police, Brown said. They allegedly drove to a nearby creek and tossed the victim and the murder weapon in the water.
“They take her on a long, bumpy road for a couple of minutes, get to a creek and river area, then they threw her in the river,” Brown testified. “The pole was also thrown in the river. According to Tyeshia, it appeared the victim was trying to swim.”
Video surveillance showed that the group went to a McDonald’s afterward and ordered smoothies.
Brown said that the defendants admitted to getting into an altercation with Pantaleon but they each blame the other for her death. Taylor claimed Whisenant hit Pantalwon with the pole, while Whisenant claimed that Taylor did.
Merriweather is accused helping the other defendants move Pantaleon back into the vehicle before she was dumped in the river.
Whisenant’s lawyer, Ben Schoettker, argued that the incident was an argument that got out of hand, not a robbery, and prosecutors suggested.
“If you look at the situation logically, it’s not a robbery and its not a capital murder. What happened is terrible. It’s not capital murder. 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 disagreed.
“We can argue why she may have wanted it; she might have wanted it for altruistic reasons. They tortured her in the back of the car to get the passcode to unlock that phone,” Green said. “They took that car.”
“This phone is evidence in a murder. She was caught with that phone. She kept it anyway. She had something involved in the murder of a teenage girl and rather than give it up she kept texting her friends and family.”
The defendants remain behind bars without bail, a requirement in Alabama for capital murder charges. The defense argued for bail, claiming a capital murder charge isn’t fair.
Judge Monet Gaines declined to rule on the bond issue. She’s allowing both the prosecution and defense to submit additional information before deciding whether the case is capital murder or not.
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[Feature Photo: Lesley Luna Pantaleon/CrimeStoppers]