BRADENTON -- After he was captured Saturday afternoon by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, triple murder suspect Andres "Andy" Avalos admitted to killing his wife, Amber Avalos, 33; their neighbor, Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James Battle, 31, according to Assistant State's Attorney Art Brown.
Avalos, 33, who was arrested in a mobile home park on 14th Street West after a 51-hour manhunt, made his first court appearance before Manatee County Judge Peter Dubensky on Sunday morning.
Avalos addressed Dubensky in a clear, coherent and alert voice via video hookup from the Manatee County jail to the Manatee County Judicial Center.
"I don't know if my parents have hired one since I have not talked to them," Avalos said when the judge asked if he had hired an attorney or needed a public defender. "So I guess I will go ahead and get a public defender."
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Brown told the judge Avalos had made a full confession to killing the pastor of Bayshore Baptist Church and his wife, the church's children's secretary, as well as Potter. Potter and Amber Avalos are believed to have been killed at a residence in northwest Bradenton while the pastor was killed afterward in the church courtyard on 14th Street West.
Dubensky told Avalos he was being charged with three counts of second-degree murder and there would be no bond. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence in Florida of 30 years to life in prison.
The suspect in Manatee County's biggest case of the year then went back to his cell, leaving questions unanswered such as where Avalos had been for 51 hours, what the motive was for the crimes and what the official causes of death are for the three victims.
Not far from the Judicial Center at Bayshore Baptist Church where Battle was shot, the Rev. Robert Allen, who has been interim pastor at the church two times and is filling in again, said speculation the killer's motive involved an improper relationship between Battle and Amber Avalos was way off base.
"Tripp Battle was clean as a hound's tooth," Allen said. "I would lay my life on the line as far as the purity of the man."
Although longtime church member Bill Smith said he does not know what might have motivated Avalos, he said if Avalos had a beef with Battle, he didn't get it off his chest before he opened fire.
"Tripp was coming back from a visitation and Andy was coming out of the church office and bam, he just shot him right there in the courtyard. There was no conversation," said Smith, who was not an eyewitness.
The church installed a memorial garden Saturday on the exact spot where the pastor's body fell. The church also planted a pink rose for Amber Avalos.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.