Annapolis Man Hired As a Hitman Pleads Guilty to First Degree Murder, Using a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime of Violence

January 27, 2022

Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess announced that Michael Gibson, 23, of Annapolis entered a guilty plea to first degree murder and using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence in the death of Leslie Saunders, 50. Gibson, who was paid $3200 by Thomas Smith, 31, to kill the victim following a verbal argument between the victim and Smith’s mother.

Smith recently pled guilty to first degree murder as well and will be sentenced on March 31, 2022.

The defendant will be sentenced on April 26, 2022.

“It’s shocking that a verbal argument prompted Thomas Smith to hire Gibson to kill Mr. Saunders and that Gibson was willing to commit such a heinous crime for money. Not only was this murder cold and calculated, but it now leaves three men’s lives – and their family’s lives – devastated. The defendant had little regard for human life or the community when he tracked the victim down in the neighborhood with the help of Thomas Smith. When he located the victim, he shot him repeatedly,” said State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess.

“I am grateful that both of the perpetrators of this senseless crime have been held accountable for a brazen murder that took place in Annapolis. The Bens Drive neighborhood should not have to live in fear that this kind of gun violence will be accepted as common place. I would like to thank the Annapolis Police Department for their work in determining that not only was this a murder, but that it was also a murder for hire.”

Deputy State’s Attorney Brian Marsh and Assistant State’s Attorney Glen Neubauer prosecuted the case on behalf of the citizens of Anne Arundel County.

On Sunday, March 15, 2020 at approximately 6:23 p.m., Annapolis police officers responded to a call of shots fired in the area of Bens Drive in Annapolis. Upon arrival, they located an adult male on the ground, unresponsive and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The victim, identified as Leslie Eugene Saunders, was pronounced deceased at the scene and later, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that the cause and manner of death was homicide by gunshot.

Detectives obtained and reviewed video surveillance from the area which captured portions of the crime. The video captured the shooter who was recognized by the detectives as the defendant, Michael Gibson.

During the investigation, detectives learned that an associate of the defendant contacted him requesting to pay him to murder Mr. Saunders, who was the longtime boyfriend of Thomas Smith’s mother. Police discovered that the mother and victim had a verbal argument that day and she was taken to the hospital by ambulance due to a medical concern shortly thereafter. Video surveillance showed the defendant first meeting up with Smith in the 1100 block of Madison Street. A short time later, Smith drove Gibson to the area of Marcs Court in Annapolis where the victim was walking in the same community a block away.

Surveillance captured Gibson as he approached Mr. Saunders who had walked between two apartment buildings. Gibson shot the victim and then fled the neighborhood where Smith was waiting nearby in his F-150 truck. Detectives tracked the two men as they fled the area. The investigation ultimately revealed that Smith paid $2,000 to Gibson prior to the murder and then paid him an additional $1,200 in cash after.

On April 3, 2020, the defendant was located and arrested. The defendant is prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a previous conviction.

The Honorable Judge Stacy W. McCormack presided over the case.