PHOENIX (WWJ/P) – A Michigan man accused in the fatal shootings of two grandmothers in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise has pleaded not guilty.
Montez Lavell Wright II was arraigned Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court. The 23-year-old Southfield, Mich. man has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder along theft, burglary and fraudulent use of a credit card in the deadly home invasion at a retirement community.
Wright was arrested in Southfield and extradited to Arizona last week. A co-defendant in the case, 24-year old Andrew Lauro, has also pleaded not guilty to murder charges.
Wright and Lauro are accused of killing 70-year-old Barbara Leslie and 75-year-old Ruth Schwed inside of Leslie’s home at the Sun City Grand retirement community — where the men were employed as gardeners. Schwed had been visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Police went to the home after being contacted on Feb. 9 by Schwed’s worried son, who found $23,000 in pending charges on Schwed’s debit card and was unable to contact either woman.
The women were found lying on the living room floor with blood splatter and expended shell casings near their bodies, according to a police statement. Leslie’s SUV was also missing from the home.
“One of the victims appeared to have fallen from a chair and was on top of a newspaper dated February 8, 2016,” police said.
Investigators searching the home for evidence found the cellphone on the floor that did not belong to either victim. Records and call logs from the phone provided investigators with several persons of interest, according to the statement.
“Phone records for one of the persons of interest indicated his cellular phone had been in area at the time when investigators believe the homicide occurred,” police said. “Investigators were able to contact an individual who had stated a male subject named Andrew Lauro had contacted him on February 8, 2016 around noon and told him he had just been involved in a robbery where another subject had shot two women.”
Police tracked down Lauro and on Feb. 19, he was taken into custody for questioning. During a follow-up interview, police say Lauro admitted that he and Wright were responsible.
Lauro allegedly told police that on the morning of February 8, he was picked up by Wright and an unnamed female. The trio drove around for a while before stopping in front of a home in the Sun City Grand retirement community that had an open garage door, according to police. The men entered the home and Wright allegedly opened fire.
“Lauro stated he exited the home and fled on foot, however, he was picked up a short time later by Montez Wright III who was driving the victim’s vehicle,” police said.
The two drove away and later met up with the female from earlier, according to police. Lauro said he then left the area with the female while Montez continued driving Leslie’s vehicle, which was later found abandoned at an apartment complex.
Following his interview with police, 10 days after the murders, Lauro was taken into custody on multiple charges. Investigators then traveled to Michigan, where Wright was apprehended on February 22.
The female subject is not currently in custody. Police say the investigation into her involvement is ongoing.
Wright is due back in court on April 29.
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