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Police: DNA on cigarillo leads to arrest in beating of 97-year-old WWII veteran

By JERRY FALLSTROM | Orlando Sentinel | Published: February 13, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — DNA taken from a cigarillo tip found where a 97-year-old Lake County, Fla., World War II veteran was beaten and robbed of $400 led to the arrest Wednesday of a suspect, according to authorities and court documents.

In a phone call made from jail earlier while being held in an unrelated case, Kevin Eugene Leeks told the person he was talking to, “We gotta take advantage of these veterans … ” according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Leeks, 29, of Leesburg was apprehended by the U.S. Marshals Violent Fugitive Task Force at a Leesburg hotel without incident in connection with the July 11 attack and robbery of Willard VanOrder, according to sheriff’s Lt. John Herrell.

VanOrder of Okahumpka was assaulted after he got home from a trip he made on his riding lawn mower to a nearby convenience store to purchase groceries, he said.

“Upon returning home, he was met at the back door of his residence by a suspect armed with a gun,” Herrell said. “Family members later found Mr. VanOrder unconscious with head injuries and it was discovered that his wallet was missing.”

VanOrder said “no, no, no … ” and before he was struck, according to the Jan. 29 probable-cause affidavit signed by Detective Terry Hauss.

His wallet, containing about $400, was missing, according to the affidavit. It also said investigators found a cigarillo tip  and that neither VanOrder nor family members smoke.

Security video from the convenience store showed a man near VanOrder buying a cigarillo and leaving within minutes of the military veteran, Herrell said. The video showed VanOrder driving his lawn mower home and a man detectives identified as Leeks heading the same direction, the affidavit said.

A search warrant obtained for a sample of Leeks’ DNA determined it matched to DNA on the cigarillo tip and on VanOrder’s pants, Herrell said.

The mixed DNA from the pants was more than 700 billion times more likely to occur if the sample originated from VanOrder and Leeks than from VanOrder and an unrelated person, according to the affidavit.

Similarly, the DNA from the cigarillo tip was more than 700 billion times more likely to occur if the sample originated from Leeks than from an unrelated person.

Leeks was charged with home invasion/robbery with a firearm and theft from a person 65 or older. He was being held in the Lake County Jail on $79,000 bond.

Herrell credited the arrest to Hauss’ “hard work and persistence."

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