KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mississippi investigators joined counterparts in Kansas on Thursday, hoping to secure evidence and interview the suspect in a three-state crime spree that included two Mississippi slayings, a New Mexico carjacking and the shooting of a store clerk west of Wichita.
The store clerk, 19-year-old Riley Juel, was in stable condition at a Wichita hospital after Wednesday's shooting in Pratt, Kansas.
That's where suspect Alex Deaton, 28, is suspected of stealing a car, which he later crashed, leading to his capture.
Now, the question is who prosecutes him first.
Authorities said Deaton is believed to have strangled his girlfriend, Heather Robinson, 30, late Wednesday, Feb. 22, or early the following day at her apartment in Rankin County, in the Jackson area.
He's suspected of then driving her white SUV to nearby Neshoba County, where 69-year-old Brenda Pinter was shot to death at a church she was cleaning on Feb. 23. Authorities say he also is suspected of wounding a jogger in Rankin County on Friday morning in a drive-by shooting. He is then believed to have headed west, still in Robinson's SUV.
Rankin Sheriff Bryan Bailey said authorities began to link the Mississippi crimes once Robinson's body was found Friday afternoon, when police found that her SUV was missing.
Bailey said Thursday that the SUV has been recovered in New Mexico, where Deaton is suspected in the Tuesday carjacking and brief abduction of two hikers, one of whom was shot and wounded after they pulled the release lever in the trunk of their Honda to escape.
Sandoval County, New Mexico, Sheriff's Lt. Keith Elder said Deaton then briefly stole a van and forced the woman to get in. When she jumped out, Elder said, Deaton returned to steal the couple's Honda. He was spotted in a Honda Wednesday morning. He eluded police, but was captured later Wednesday after the theft of the car at the Pratt Kwik Stop, where Juel was shot.
Juel told KSN News in Wichita on Thursday that he felt "something wasn't right" when the suspect walked into the store while Juel was working his overnight shift. He said Deaton came directly to the counter and demanded the keys to Juel's car but did not ask for money. When he handed the keys over, Deaton shot him at point-blank range, Juel said.
"I was just scared I was going to die, 'cause I was losing a lot of blood and I was going through a lot of pain," he said. "That's the one thing I was just telling myself: 'You cannot die; you have too much friends and family.'"
He was able to call 911 and was alert until help arrived. He said he's grateful to be alive and thanked the police officer who first arrived for "helping me, talking to me, keeping me there. If it wasn't for him, I probably would've gone to sleep," he said.
Juel underwent surgery and is expected to be hospitalized for about a week.
Bailey said he believes Robinson was killed because she was trying to break up with Deaton.
Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell said he doesn't know why Pinter was killed.
Bailey said he hopes Mississippi authorities will get the first opportunity to prosecute Deaton. He said investigators from Rankin, Neshoba and the MBI were briefed Thursday morning on the Kansas and New Mexico cases. They hoped also to speak with Deaton.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation coordinated a meeting in Great Bend involving its agents and those from Mississippi, spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said. She said investigators want to ensure that evidence at several crime scenes is being properly collected but "it might take some time to decide the question of extradition."
Deaton's family issued a statement to Jackson media outlets Thursday.
"Our family is deeply shocked, saddened and horrified at all that has unfolded since last Wednesday. We are devastated and completely heartbroken for all that has happened," it said. "Our family is in a state of disbelief. " It went on to say that Deaton's family was praying for the victims and their families.
McGill reported from New Orleans.