MANATEE — Thanksgiving brought some joy to Denise Potter’s family as they celebrated with a brand new baby girl. It was Potter’s first grandchild and the little girl was due on the day Potter was shot to death in one of Manatee County’s most notorious triple murders.
“She was born early and I believe God sent her to help us heal,” said Potter’s aunt Julie Konkol said. “We had her for Thanksgiving.”
Friday marked one year since Potter, 46, the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31, and Amber Avalos, 33, were killed in a triple homicide that included two locations 10-miles apart and a 4-year-old witness. That day 11 children lost a parent.
Triple-murder suspect Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. now sits in the Manatee County jail awaiting trial. If he is found guilty, a jury will decide whether he’ll live or die.
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It was 1:20 p.m. Dec. 4, 2014, when Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to reports of a shooting at Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., Bradenton. When they arrived, deputies found Battle shot dead in the courtyard just outside his home on the church property.
Witnesses said Battle and Andy Avalos were seen facing each other before Battle was gunned down.
Within moments investigators were alerted that there may be other victims at the Avalos’ home in the 1200 block of 67th Street NW in Bradenton.
At the home investigators say they found Avalos had hung his wife Amber from a cord in the laundry room of their northwest Bradenton home, beat her and then shot her.
He also gunned down Potter, who had been visiting his home, investigators said.
Investigators said after he killed the two women, Avalos dropped his 4-year-old son off at day care and went to the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64 where he left his vehicle. He took a taxi to Bayshore where he shot and killed Battle before vanishing.
A 51-hour manhunt ensued and included the suspect’s father pleading for him to turn himself in for the sake of his children who were being held in protective custody.
Avalos was captured after he showed up on a deck behind a mobile home in the Pine Haven Mobile Home Park, 6320 14th St. W., Bradenton, just a couple of blocks from Bayshore Baptist Church. Avalos told the couple who lived in the mobile home that he wanted to speak to his mother.
After the couple called 911, a caravan of deputies and detectives came barrelling down their quiet road with sirens screeching. Neighbors watched as guns and semi-automatic weapons were drawn and the man considered armed and dangerous surrendered.
Avalos Jr. did not put up a fight, detectives said, and surrendered before being taken to the sheriff’s office for questioning.
During the interview, Avalos reportedly gave detectives a detailed confession, although none of those details have been made public.
Avalos was indicted, and now faces three counts of first-degree murder.
The case is scheduled to go to trial July 18. If convicted, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown has indicated that his office will seek the death penalty.
Avalos is next scheduled to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 27 for a two-day hearing. Presiding Circuit Judge Diana Moreland is expected to hear several motions filed by Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts, including a motion to bar the imposition of the death penalty on the basis that Florida’s capital sentencing procedure is unconstitutional.
Deanna Freniere told the Herald that Amber Avalos was “literally the glue in the backbone of our family,” the day after her sister was murdered. “Amber’s life was giving to others,” Freniere said. “If I had to say anything about my sister, Amber’s life was giving to others more than herself.”
Amber Avalos, who worked at the church as the nursery director, left behind the six children she shared with her husband who is awaiting trial.
Potter was a very special young lady who loved God first and the three sons she left behind, Konkol said on Friday. On Oct. 17, the family welcomed Potter’s first grandchild. The child’s birth helped ease the family’s pain and will help bring joy to the holidays.
Battle’s widow also vowed to find the strength to heal and move on as she spoke at her husband’s funeral.
“You can silence the voice, but you can’t silence the song,” she told the crowd of more than 800 at his funeral. “You can bury the horse but the work will go on. I will grieve the rest of my days, but I will stay together because I know Jesus. He is the song and the work.”
After the service, Joy Battle added: “The best way to honor my husband’s life is to carry on and keep on.”
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.