Crime & Courts

‘Valentine Asesinato’: Greg Leon’s Murder Trial Set To Kick Off

Seven years later, prominent restaurant owner will finally stand trial …

More than seven years after he admitted to shooting and killing his wife’s alleged lover on Valentine’s Day, prominent South Carolina business owner Gregorio M. Leon will finally stand trial for murder in Lexington, S.C. next week.

The owner of the popular San José chain of restaurants was supposed to go to trail in March, but a shortage of court-approved interpreters delayed the proceedings. Leon’s fate will now be decided by a jury of his peers beginning on Monday (June 19, 2023).

Leon, 56, hails from San José de la Paz, Jalisco in central Mexico. This town of roughly 1,100 people lies in the shadow of the Sierra de Pénjamo, approximately 205 miles northwest of Mexico City. His murder case has drawn national attention – including an expansive treatment in The Los Angeles Times three years ago which focused on Leon being part of a “dynasty of transplants” from this region of Mexico, which is home to the famed agave azul plant that forms the base ingredient in tequila.

“Politicians and the press have praised the San Jose de la Paz migrants as a model of integration and success in a new, diverse South,” reporter Gustavo Arellano noted for the Times.  “Now Gregorio has become the most prominent example of the dark side of their Mexican combo-plate dream.”

Arellano referred to Leon as “almost royalty” in San Jose de la Paz, describing him as the leader of one of many Mexican fiefdoms “that span big cities and small towns” in America, with “gentlemen’s agreements keeping competitors away and marriages entered into as much to solidify and expand holdings as for love.”

(Click to View)

San Jose de la Paz Jalisco (Facebook)

For those of you unfamiliar with this case, we addressed it extensively in the latest episode of our ‘Week In Review.’

To recap: Just hours after dinner with family and friends on the evening of Sunday, February 14, 2016 – Valentine’s Day – Leon shot and killed his wife Rachel Leon’s lover, 28-year-old Arturo Bravo, as the two rendezvoused in the cabin of a silver Toyota Tundra pickup truck his wife allegedly purchased for Bravo three days earlier using Leon’s money.

Leon had placed a tracking device on his wife’s Mercedes SUV and followed her after dinner to the location where the shooting took place.

“I shot my wife’s lover,” Leon told an emergency dispatcher some time after firing four rounds into the cabin of the Tundra. Two of those rounds struck Bravo – who was clad in nothing but a pair of socks at the time of the shooting.

Leon left Bravo to bleed out on the pavement – and left his wife alone in the Tundra. Afterward, he disposed of the weapon in a nearby woods and reportedly contemplated fleeing the country, according to one of his former attorneys. Hours later, though, he agreed to surrender to deputies of the Lexington County sheriff’s office.

Leon was charged with murder, attempted murder, discharging a weapon into a vehicle and possession of a firearm during a violent crime. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges – claiming he acted in self-defense. In an effort to bolster that presumption, Leon’s attorneys have accused Bravo of being a “violent gang member” tied to the Las Zetas drug cartel. They have also suggested Bravo may have been forcing himself on Rachel Leon for several years leading up to the shooting – essentially blackmailing her for sex as well as the spoils from her marriage to the Mexican “royal.”

As noted in our prior coverage of this case, the Las Zetas cartel is said to have initially sought retribution against Leon and his allies for the killing – however the circumstances of Bravo’s murder were later deemed “comprendida.” Or “understood.”

While “comprendida” in the eyes of the cartel, it will be up to twelve Lexington County citizens to ultimately determine whether the killing was justified under the laws of the Palmetto State.

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Leon – who has previously been represented by attorneys Eric Bland and Dick Harpootlian – will be represented at his murder trial by Jack Swerling. As our readers are well aware from his commentary for FITSNews leading up to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ double homicide trial earlier this year, Swerling is one of (if not the) best criminal defense attorney in South Carolina.

Leading the prosecution will be S.C. eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard, one of the state’s most capable, experienced prosecutors and arguably the best “courtroom closer” in the Palmetto State.

In other words, in addition to being one of the most notorious cases South Carolina has ever seen – the Leon trial will pit two of the state’s best attorneys against each other.

Like the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, Leon’s case is layered with other alleged criminal acts – some preceding the shooting and others allegedly flowing from it. Last summer, Leon was charged with perjury after agents of S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) claimed he “acted in concert” with at least one unnamed accomplice “to provide false testimony to aid (him) in the defense of his pending murder charge.”

“He is actively subverting justice in this case,” Hubbard told  S.C. circuit court judge Debra R. McCaslin at a hearing last spring. “He is on a recording telling a witness to lie.”

Even so, McCaslin declined to revoke the $500,000 bond secured for Leon by Bland following Bravo’s murder – allowing him to remain free ahead of the upcoming trial.

Prior to the 2016 shooting, Leon was sentenced to probation for his role in a bribery scandal that sent former Lexington County sheriff James Metts to federal prison. At the time of the 2016 shooting, Leon was on probation for related charges involving the hiring of undocumented workers.

(Click to View)

S.C. circuit court judge Walton J. McLeod IV (FITSNews)

Leon’s trial will be presided over by S.C. circuit court judge Walton J. McLeod IV of Little Mountain, S.C. Elected by the legislature in February 2018, McLeod is a resident judge of the eleventh circuit.

Prior to commencing this trial, McLeod must first address several critical outstanding evidentiary issues related to the shooting itself, what precipitated it and how Leon is alleged to have wound up at the scene of the shooting on that fateful February evening.

How those issues are ultimately resolved will go a long way in determining the outcome of the trial …

Unfortunately, unlike the Murdaugh trial, media access to these proceedings will be limited. McLeod has declined our news outlet’s request to livestream the proceedings – or to publish any audio or video from inside the courtroom whatsoever.

As noted in our ‘Week In Review,’ director of special projects Dylan Nolan will be covering the Leon trial with support from our research director Jenn Wood. That means now would be a good time to start following both of them on Twitter if you aren’t already. Dylan’s Twitter page can be found here, while Jenn’s can be found here. Two weeks have been budgeted for these proceedings, according to the S.C. eleventh circuit court roster.

As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Leon is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as he may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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1 comment

Observer (the real one) June 17, 2023 at 10:15 pm

If the story I heard is true, hopefully they will set Mr Leon free. It sounds like he made a community improvement.

Reply

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