Authorities name two suspects in killing of sheriff's wife and deputy
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:24 a.m.
MARIANNA - Two suspects killed the county sheriff's wife and a deputy after one of the assailants had been unable to collect life insurance in the death of his wife, officials said Wednesday.
Lionel Sands, 60, and Daniel Brown, 54, staged the attacks outside the home of Jackson County Sheriff John McDaniel on Tuesday evening, State Attorney Steve Meadows said. Authorities responding to the scene then killed Sands and Brown.
Sands, a former Army officer, and Brown, who served eight years in Texas prison for assault, prepared for the attacks and targeted McDaniel's home, Meadows said. They were wearing disguises when they killed Mellie McDaniel and deputy Harold Michael Altman and were carrying plastic restraints, bleach, vinegar and latex gloves, he said.
''What their ultimate plan was died with these two men,'' he said.
Meadows wasn't sure what exactly set off the longtime friends who met in a local church group. Sands had long been considered the primary suspect in the June 2001 death of his wife, Gail Joanne Sands, according to Meadows and a March 2006 lawsuit by her life insurance company, AXA Equitable.
Sands had never been charged in the death of his wife, whose body was found at the bottom of the couple's swimming pool. An autopsy revealed her death was not accidental, but the case had never been solved, according to the sheriff's Web site. Gail Sands died due to blunt force trauma to the head.
The insurer never paid the benefits because it was unable to determine which of Gail Sands' relatives should receive the money. Lionel Sands was the policy's primary beneficiary, according to the suit.
With this dispute as a backdrop, Sands and Brown went to the house for the shootings that began around 5 p.m., Meadows said.
Mellie McDaniel was talking on a radio phone with her husband while driving home from grocery shopping. About four minutes into the call, she told him that she was being followed and then screamed, Meadows said.
The sheriff called for help and Altman arrived at McDaniel's home within two minutes, Meadows said.
The sheriff and other deputies arrived and got into a gunfight with the suspects, Meadows said. The two were killed, but it was unclear if the sheriff fired any of the fatal shots, he said.
''All of this occurred within a timeframe of about seven minutes,'' Meadows said. ''They responded incredibly fast. The sheriff drove there as quickly as possible.''
He said the men fired into the sheriff's car.
''It is a miracle the sheriff was not one of the victims. This should be a wake up call to every individual who deals with public safety. I think all of us have taken pause in the last 24 hours to think about the safety of our families,'' he said.
More than 100 law enforcement officers on foot and in a helicopter searched a four-mile area around the McDaniel home through the night Tuesday and into Wednesday morning.
Meadows said the officers were searching for a possible third suspect who was known to associate with Brown and Sands. But he said the third man was found out of the state.
He said authorities still considered the case an active investigation and were working to ensure there were no accomplices or associates of the two men.
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