For three weeks, William Carl Gardner III had dropped out of sight. Authorities found no sign of the man wanted in the brazen ambush killing of his former girlfriend, Leslie Pinkston, on a downtown street in the small farming community of Winters.
But Monday afternoon, a tip led a U.S. marshals task force and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police to an apartment in southeast Las Vegas. Inside was Gardner, who surrendered about 12:40 a.m. Tuesday after a six-hour standoff punctuated by a call from Gardner to a Sacramento television station.
Gardner, 30, will be extradited to Yolo County in the coming days and held on suspicion of murder, said Winters Police Chief Sergio Gutierrez at a joint news conference Tuesday with U.S. Marshal Albert Nájera in Winters.
“We were singularly focused on apprehending Mr. Gardner,” Gutierrez said, adding that investigators were “continuing to work to develop the best case” for prosecutors.
Yolo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral said Tuesday his office was waiting for information from investigators and would not comment on what charges prosecutors would file against Gardner until they were able to review reports on the case.
Gardner, who also goes by the name Malik Mahammad, has a lengthy criminal record in Sacramento County with arrests ranging from auto theft to domestic violence and criminal threats to drug possession and firearms violations, according to Sacramento Superior Court records.
Gardner faced charges in Yolo County of stalking and threatening Pinkston and her mother, Carla Crane, at their Winters home in January and was scheduled to face trial Monday in Yolo Superior Court on the allegations.
The alleged threat against Pinkston was “so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific as to … cause that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety,” court records show. Pinkston was identified as the victim by the initials “L.P.”
The court issued a criminal protective order to protect Pinkston from Gardner in connection with the January case.
Gardner was released on bail from Yolo County Jail on Nov. 15, where he had been held on a warrant out of Sacramento Superior Court after failing to appear for a hearing on an unrelated domestic violence case dating back to August 2011.
Pinkston was shot at close range the morning of Nov. 18 as she sat in her car in downtown Winters a short distance from the Aleco Electric office where she worked. She died a short time later at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Pinkston was 32.
The Las Vegas tip was the first break investigators had had in weeks, Nájera said. U.S. marshals had launched a nationwide search and posted a $2,000 reward for information leading to Gardner.
“We don’t know how long he was there. It was the first time he had surfaced anywhere. … This was a very high priority for the marshals’ office,” Nájera said, adding that when Winters police called, “This was a 911 call to us.”
Investigators shook out more clues leading to the East Tropicana Avenue apartment where Gardner was holed up with a man, woman and small child, but Nájera said Gardner “clearly had some help staying under the radar. He was doing a very good job staying under the radar.”
A U.S. marshals task force and local police negotiators were eventually able to persuade Gardner to give up, but not before the Sacramento man called Channel 13 (KOVR) as officers walked the roof above the apartment.
“I know that even if I told police the full story, the full story is never going to come out. That’s just how the cookie crumbles,” Gardner told the Sacramento television station. “Those that know me, they actually know me … They know how solid I am as an individual. Those that don’t know me, they can only speculate.”
The man, woman and child in the apartment were not hurt. Nájera said the three “were not family, but there was at least a friendship” with Gardner. The unidentified man surrendered to officers, according to Las Vegas police officials. The woman, identified by Las Vegas police as Brittany Ulmer, 24, was arrested on suspicion of obstructing a public officer.
Back in Winters, word of the standoff and arrest hundreds of miles away in Las Vegas flew through the small community still shaken by the violence that visited the quiet town last month.
“We were getting minute-by-minute play-by-play,” said Winters City Manager John Donlevy, who received updates throughout the evening Monday. “It really reverberated through town.”
At the Tuesday news conference, Gutierrez said he called Pinkston’s mother upon word of Gardner’s capture.
“She told me she was able to sleep in peace now,” Gutierrez said.