Slayings suspect makes first court appearance
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 10:21 p.m.
Largo resident Leo Lancing Boatman made his first court appearance Wednesday for the shooting deaths of two Santa Fe Community College students.
Dressed in a red jail uniform, the 19-year-old stood with his legs secured with chains and his wrists shackled as Marion County Judge Jim McCune ordered him held without bond.
Investigators arrested Boatman in Pinellas County on Tuesday on two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of John Parker and Amber Peck, both 26 and from Gainesville. The two never returned home from an overnight camping trip Jan. 3 at the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area off State Road 40 in the Ocala National Forest.
Relatives found their bodies, shot multiple times, at Hidden Pond near the Florida Trail on Jan. 7.
After Boatman's court hearing, a spokesman from the State Attorney's Office said the arrest would be treated as a death penalty case. But a formal decision has not been made and was premature, the office reported later in the day.
"He just stumbled into them," Marion County Sheriff's Capt. Dennis Strow said, describing how Boatman came across the two college students.
Based on what investigators have found at the crime scene and learned about the students' plans, Strow said it appeared Boatman attacked the pair as they were preparing to leave the forest.
Strow said investigators are still looking into details of what transpired at the camp site. He could not say how long Boatman knew the students were in the woods before the attack occurred.
In a search of the area around the students' camp site, however, investigators did locate other nearby sites and found camping items plus a receipt from the Juniper Springs Recreation Area store.
Items on the receipt were similar to those witnesses said Boatman had bought at the store, where he spent $151.
Officers have not released additional information about Parker's and Peck's injuries, although they said both were shot at close range.
After they were shot, Boatman tried to hide the students' bodies, which were found partially submerged in the water near their camp site, Strow said.
Briana Ryan, 20, an acquaintance of Boatman, later told investigators that Boatman told her on Jan. 5 that he had killed someone in the woods and told her, "I tried to sink them in the water, and they wouldn't sink," an arrest affidavit states.
Also in the water were pieces of identification and other personal effects of Parker and Peck. Their belongings had been scattered, and their backpacks were open.
Officers said they found no evidence of a struggle.
Parker and Peck didn't have time to try to defend themselves, Strow said. And their deaths were "instantaneous."
Investigators have credited Georgia resident Joey Tierney with the break in the case. Tierney gave Boatman a ride after he left the forest. When he learned about the students' deaths, he contacted investigators, telling them about the hitchhiker he had picked up and brought to a motel. The Sheriff's Office presented Tierney with a $5,000 check Wednesday for his information leading to an arrest.
Strow said Ryan will be eligible for a $1,000 reward.
After his arrest, Boatman slept most of the way to Ocala, the Sheriff's Office reported. During the trip, he made two comments, asking officers if he would be fed when he arrived at the jail. He also asked if they were federal officers because the crime had happened on federal property.
Forestry officials have legal authority in the area because it is national property. However, their cases often deal with matters related to the forest instead of personal or property crimes, Strow said.
"For the most part, we work almost everything there that occurs," he said.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway confirmed that the state would keep the case, although the crime scene is in a national forest.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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