Rattlesnake bite may provide alibi for accused Georgia killer

Raymond E. Leverett
Raymond E. Leverett

John Lewis Fleming III vanished back in mid-September.

The authorities believe the 53-year-old Fleming, who lived in Macon, was shot and killed, because about a month later a car linked to him was found abandoned on the city’s southeastern side with blood and two bullet shell casings inside it.

Fleming’s body has not been found, but a man who investigators believe was the last person to see Fleming was arrested in early November on a murder charge and jailed. A clear motive for the alleged killing has yet to emerge.

On Thursday, Fleming’s accused killer, Raymond Eugene Leverett, appeared before a Bibb County Superior Court judge in a hearing to decide whether Leverett, who has been behind bars since his Nov. 8 arrest, would be granted bond. And if so, how steep would it be?

Leverett’s lawyer argued that Leverett, 36, a former truck driver who works on car engines and struggles with an alcohol problem, has a clean record and has never been in serious trouble save for a DUI about a decade ago.

Defense attorney Alan Wheeler explained to Judge David L. Mincey III that Leverett and Fleming knew one another. Leverett worked for one of Fleming’s friends at a Gray Highway auto-repair shop. Leverett had sold an engine to Fleming and agreed some months back to install the engine in Fleming’s car, Wheeler said.

It turned out that Leverett couldn’t do the job, and the men apparently argued. But according to statements in court Thursday the pair were acquaintances and on occasion they went places together.

“There was no bad blood” between the two, Wheeler said.

Sometime in the middle of September, in the days before Fleming disappeared, Leverett was outside his cousin’s house in neighboring Crawford County when he was bitten by a rattlesnake.

“A copperhead or a rattlesnake?” Wheeler asked his client at Thursday’s proceeding.

“Rattlesnake,” the lean, 6-foot-5 Leverett said, though it was unclear where on his body he was bitten.

On the morning of Sept. 19, the day Fleming vanished, Wheeler said Leverett asked Fleming for a ride to a Macon hospital where Leverett had a follow-up doctor’s visit for his snake bite.

The lawyer said that according to his client’s version of events that Fleming had dropped off Leverett at The Medical Center, Navicent Health, in downtown Macon and then left.

“Mr. Fleming was supposed to come back and pick him up. He didn’t,” Wheeler said. “That was the last physical contact my client had with Mr. Fleming.”

Wheeler added that he believes “without any hesitation that we’ll be able to get records that my client was actually at the Medical Center between 9:30 and 10:30 on the morning of Sept. 19.”

Prosecutors said the car they believe Fleming was driving that day, a white Chevrolet Prizm, turned up Oct. 9 at an empty warehouse on Waterville Road, which parallels Broadway and runs beneath Eisenhower Parkway on the south side of downtown.

Prosecutors on Thursday noted that in statements to investigators, Leverett said he had never been on Waterville Road but that cellphone “pings” have shown otherwise, that Leverett was there on Sept. 19 and multiple times in the days before the Chevy Prizm was found.

The prosecutors said potential cellphone evidence may refute that Leverett was waiting at the hospital to be picked up the morning Fleming disappeared, that instead Leverett was at an undisclosed spot in eastern Bibb County where Fleming’s phone was also “pinged” at the time.

Authorities also contend that preliminary matches have been made tying the shell casings found in the Prizm to a gun that belongs to the girlfriend of Leverett’s roommate, a gun that investigators say Leverett has admitted to borrowing around the time Fleming went missing.

Wheeler, Leverett’s lawyer, said Leverett borrowed the pistol “as a result of being snake-bit or seeing snakes ... behind the home where he was living.”

Judge Mincey, after considering what he termed “a very serious allegation” and also taking into account Leverett’s clean record, set bond at $100,000.

If he can post it and is released to await trial, Leverett was ordered to wear an ankle monitor, to stay out of Bibb County and to be under house arrest at his parents’ home north of Centerville in Houston County between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Leverett’s father, Wiley Green Leverett, a Centerville pastor, was charged with child molestation earlier this year after completing a month-long jail stay for misdemeanor sexual battery of a 9-year-old girl.

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.