Crime

He killed his wife, a pastor and a neighbor. His lawyers will argue he was insane.

Triple-murder suspect Andres Avalos Jr., charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 4, 2014, slayings of his wife, Amber Avalos; neighbor, Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31, appears in court May 14, 2015.
Triple-murder suspect Andres Avalos Jr., charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Dec. 4, 2014, slayings of his wife, Amber Avalos; neighbor, Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31, appears in court May 14, 2015. ttomkins@bradenton.com

Three families have been waiting more than two years for justice.

Eleven children lost a parent on Dec. 4, 2014, when detectives say Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr., 36, killed his wife, neighbor and local pastor.

On that day, a home in the quiet Northwest Bradenton neighborhood — known for its lush lawns, views of the Manatee River where it flows into Tampa Bay and a tranquil lifestyle — and the sacred grounds of a Bayshore Gardens church were turned into crime scenes.

Avalos, charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife, Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James “Tripp” Battle, 31, is set to stand trial beginning Monday.

If convicted, Avalos would be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. His defense attorneys made several attempts to stop the prosecution from seeking the death penalty, but most recently an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was denied.

But his defense won’t argue that he did not murder his wife, Potter or Battle. Instead, they will rely on an insanity defense.

If he is convicted, the defense also plans to rely on claims that he was emotionally or mentally disturbed, under extreme duress and did not have the capacity to understand his actions were criminal.

Monday will begin the process of selecting a jury — expected to take days because of the local media attention the case has received and national attention the case garnered in the days immediately following the three murders.

Members of Battle’s family, including his mother and wife, who are expected to testify, have sat in on hearing after hearing over the years.

In December, his mother, Rhonda Battle, told the Herald it was too difficult to even drive past Bayshore Baptist Church since her son was gunned down on its grounds.

“As we enter into our second year without our son, Tripp, we find that it’s far more difficult than we would have ever thought possible,” Rhonda and Jimmy Battle said in a statement at the time. “Tripp was such a blessing to us and others as he touched the lives of so many people with his eagerness to share the Gospel of Christ.”

While not able to be in court because they are out of state, Potter’s family members have closely followed news of the case.

“Our family still grieves the loss of our beloved Denise who was shining in our lives,” Potter’s aunt Julie Konkol said. “Her three sons, Brian, Michael and Matthew, are without their mother. ... Denise’s only granddaughter, Ella, was born 10 months after Denise’s murder. Ella will never have the opportunity to know her grandmother, and Denise will never have the opportunity to be a grandmother.”

Her family’s hearts went out to Amber Avalos’ children and family and the Battles family, she added.

“We don’t desire revenge. We only seek justice for Denise and the families that this merciless, selfish murderer perpetuated on so many children and families,” Konkol said. “Our lives were changed forever on that day.”

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