The week that shook Selma: a look backPublished 7:02pm Saturday, June 8, 2013
Following that discovery, the words went out that Lee — now the lead suspect in the heinous murder of three — was hiding out somewhere in Selma.
With those words, and in light of the gruesome nature of the murders, residents in Selma began living on edge, wondering where this man — this murder suspect — could be.
“I remember having meetings with our commanders and officers, letting them know not to take anything for granted; that nothing was too small,” Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley. “We reminded our officers not to let their guard down on any traffic stop and told our detectives to contact their sources. We needed to find where he was.”
The three people killed on Tuesday, June 5, were 9-year-old twins, Jordan and Taylor Dejerinett and 73-year-old Mac Girdner.
It wasn’t long after Lee was declared the lead suspect, some of the leads put him in Selma. He had a long criminal history, and had a run-in with authorities in December 2011, where he was arrested at GWC Homes on Martin Luther King Street.
In fact, it was GWC Homes where some tips had placed Lee after the murders.
“We had a lot of police out here tonight and we did an extensive search for Mr. Lee,” Riley told the Times-Journal the night of the search. “We have a good idea he is in the area and this is where we took him into custody back in December.”
That search was just one of the countless searches and raids conducted throughout Selma in the following days.
“We were all over the place. We had units out along with those from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshalls, the Troopers, and others,” Riley remembers. “We had tips coming in from all over, and while some of those tips didn’t pay off, there were some that did and some that put us on the right path.”
Unfortunately for Riley and the authorities, and the community as a whole, the manhunt dragged on for a number of days, stretching into the weekend.
But, it was a moment when Riley had decided to take a moment off and take a breather that something began to happen.
“I remember I got up on Saturday morning and looked at my wife and said ‘let’s get out of the house and get some breakfast.’ So, we got going and went out,” Riley said. “It was during breakfast that I got a call from someone telling me that a source wanted to talk to me directly. I said OK and took the call and this call gave us information that Lee was currently staying at an apartment.”
Riley said he quickly told his wife that they had to go and began making calls.
“I raced back to the house and dropped off my wife,” Riley said, saying he stopped just long enough to make sure she was safely out of the car and in the house. “We then coordinated our response and yes, he was in the apartment and was taken into custody without incident.”
That search came to a calm end that Saturday morning as an Alabama State Trooper tactical team stormed Merrimac Apartment’s 410 and discovered Lee, and an unidentified woman, inside. Both were taken into custody without incident.
Riley said, as tactical team members led Lee to a waiting car, apartment complex residents began cheering and thanking law enforcement for finally capturing the wanted murder suspect.
“It was a great day,” Riley said moments after Lee’s arrest. “I know it was raining, but none of us got hurt, the suspect wasn’t hurt, no civilians were hurt. I think we can all [breath a sigh of relief].”
Today, Lee remains in custody in Lowndes County under $3 million bond and is awaiting trial, likely to begin in October.
“It was weird week, a stressful week,” Riley said. “The city was on edge, our department was edge, knowing a person like this — a person who was capable of such violence — was on the loose and likely in Selma.
“There was a huge sigh of relief when he was taken into custody without incident,’ Riley said. “This is just another example of how important our community is in the process. That phone call I got at breakfast changed everything and we were so thankful.”