Escaped convicted murderer Leo Chavez apprehended

The CCSO announced the capture of Leo Chavez-Santiago Friday evening

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Leo Chavez-Santiago (Cullman County Sheriff’s Office)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Early Friday evening, escaped Cullman County Detention Center inmate Leo Chavez- listed in Blount County court records as Leo Chavez-Santiago with the shorter name as an alias–was taken into custody near Hanceville after he was identified and detained by an armed local resident.

Lawrence Baker, who lives on Arkadelphia Road near the railroad tracks, saw Chavez from his home after the escapee came down from the tracks, his apparent route of escape from Cullman.

“I was sitting there trying to eat supper, and just seen him walk down the driveway. I grabbed my gun, come out and asked him if he was the one they was looking for. He said, ‘Yes, sir.’ I said, ‘Well you need to get down on that gravel right there, and we called Hanceville (Police). Hanceville showed up pretty quick and put him in the car.”

Hanceville police officer Zach Hightower took Chavez into custody, and was joined at the scene by Cpl. Kyle Duncan.

Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail told The Tribune that Chavez told officers that, “He was hungry and tired, and tired of running,” and commended Baker, saying, “I appreciate Lawrence keeping his eyes open and recognizing the escapee, and that sort of thing.”

Nail added, “I want to thank all the law enforcement officers that worked on this deal. Proud of everybody and the job that they done.”

Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry and U.S. Marshals offered a combined $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Chavez. Baker joked that his wife, who had suggested to him that Chavez might come down the tracks, would probably get the money.

Chavez was convicted in Blount County in 2020 for his participation with other suspects in the robbery and murder of his parents. He was charged with two counts of capital murder during a robbery and an additional count of capital murder of two or more victims. Because Chavez was 17 at the time of the murders, he was ineligible for the death penalty and was given life sentences. 

Because his parents’ bodies were placed by the suspects in a single shallow grave without proper burial, Chavez was also convicted of two counts of abuse of a corpse.

Chavez’s sentencing was postponed repeatedly by the COVID shutdown, and he was finally sentenced earlier this year. He appealed the conviction, and his appeal was under consideration when he escaped. 

On Friday morning following his Thursday night escape, Blount County Courts posted, “The Court having considered the pleadings and arguments of counsel hereby denies the motion for judgment of Acquittal and denies the Motion for a New Trial.”

Chavez had been housed in Cullman’s jail for months, and he had also been housed previously in Walker County. The housing of certain inmates, especially to separate co-defendants, in counties away from those in which they are charged is not unusual. Though his case was under appeal, Chavez was being held in Cullman pending transfer to an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com