(Editor’s note: This story first published at the Montgomery Advertiser, part of the USA TODAY Network.)
AUBURN, Ala. – The lead suspect in the disappearance and death of Aniah Blanchard, the stepdaughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, will face a capital murder charge.
Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said in a press conference Monday that he will seek the death penalty against Ibraheem Yazeed, 29.
“The process of seeing justice done for Aniah and her family will not be swift, but I can promise it will be thorough,” Hughes said.
Blanchard, 19, a student at Southern Union State Community College, was last seen on video surveillance footage at a convenience store on Oct. 23. She was reported missing the following day. Her car was recovered at a Montgomery apartment complex, 55 miles west of her last known location, a few days later and contained evidence of blood.
Law enforcement found human remains on Nov. 25 that were later identified as Blanchard’s. Hughes said at the press conference that an autopsy had determined that Blanchard died by homicide.
“There was an autopsy done,” Hughes said. “The medical examiner ruled that Aniah Blanchard was killed in the manner of homicide. The cause of death was a gunshot wound.”
Three men – Yazeed; Antwain “Squirmy” Fisher, 35, and David Lee Johnson Jr., 63 – have been arrested in connection with her disappearance. But Hughes said Yazeed was “the lone person responsible in this case for abducting Aniah Blanchard. He is the lone person responsible for Aniah’s murder.”
A witness said he saw Yazeed forcing Blanchard into a car in the parking lot at the store where she was last seen. Fisher is charged with kidnapping and accused of disposing of evidence. Johnson has been charged with hindering prosecution.
“This case has absolutely shaken our community to its core,” Hughes said, though he praised the work of law enforcement in responding to Blanchard’s disappearance.
“It is my intention that the response to this horrific crime be a warning to anyone, anyone who believes they want to come to Lee County and engage in violent criminal behavior,” he said. “They will certainly be dealt with, and the consequences will be severe.”
In October, Yazeed was free on a $295,000 bond on charges of kidnapping, attempted murder, robbery and possession of marijuana in connection with the beat of two men in a Montgomery hotel in January. Fisher pleaded guilty to felony murder in 2007 and served three years in prison with 17 years suspended.
A Lee County Judge last month ordered Yazeed held without bond and also ordered him to submit to a DNA test, to compare against a sample found in Blanchard’s car. Fisher is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on Dec. 18.
A gag order has been imposed on attorneys, prosecutors and witnesses in the case. Alabama media organizations, including the Montgomery Advertiser, are challenging the order. A hearing is set for Wednesday.
Hughes declined to discuss Fisher’s case or details of the investigation.