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Jury Selected In Greg Leon Trial

Battle lines drawn in pre-trial arguments

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This morning the Lexington County, South Carolina courthouse and its staff stood prepared for the trial of restauranteur turned alleged murderer Gregorio M. Leon. More than seven years after the shooting that left 28-year-old Arturo Bravo dead, dozens of residents of Lexington county formed a neat line, holding their white summons sheets in hand as they waited to be processed by court staff.

The staid atmosphere common to courthouses was temporarily lifted by a cacophony of conversations as neighbors and friends in the jury pool discussed how mutual acquaintances and kids they had not seen in years were doing.

Prospective jurors poured out of the court’s elevators and formed a neat line, while simultaneously a second group formed – a dozen or so of Leon’s family and friends who conversed among themselves while more than a hundred potential jurors were processed.

As the inflow of jurors slowed, a man wearing a black suit stepped out of the elevator and slipped through the throng unnoticed by all but his family and attorneys. Leon, the man some of these prospective jurors will come to know very well in the next few weeks, didn’t stand out in the crowd.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Leon embraced his family briefly before being pulled aside by his former attorney, Eric Bland. Leon and Bland spoke in the hallway as the final jurors were processed and taken into the courtroom. Once inside, jurors were asked their name, the name of their spouse (if applicable) and their professions. Jurors with situations meeting South Carolina’s statutory exemptions were invited to speak privately with presiding judge Walton J. McLeod IV.

As the break came to a close- and as attorneys and court staff retook their places at their respective tables – Leon walked almost unnoticed through the crowd of those who could soon decide his fate. His face showed the strain of the situation, but he remained composed and unafraid to look into the eyes of all in attendance.

At that point, S.C. eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard called the case – and McLeod read the indictment and witness list to the courtroom. The list contained names familiar to those who followed Alex Murdaugh‘s murder trial earlier this year in Walterboro, S.C. Murdaugh’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian appeared on the witness list, as did S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent Melinda Worley – who testified against Murdaugh.

Bland’s name was on the list, too.

No prospective jurors cited relationships with any of the aforementioned individuals as potential causes for concern.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

“Have you or any member of your family been employed at a San Jose restaurant?” McLeod inquired – nobody indicated that they had, but around fifteen people stood when asked if they were familiar with the case through media coverage.

Leon – and the chain of restaurants he manages – are widely known throughout the Midlands region of South Carolina. The San Jose restaurant chain has become an empire described by reporter Gustavo Arellano of The Los Angeles Times as a place “where combo plates ruled and the decor looked like an El Torito circa 1992.”

The chain was, and is, very popular – and many in the Midlands have come to love its food and service. Over the years, Leon’s contributions to local sports teams, sick employees – and his home village of San José de la Paz, Jalisco – grew his reputation within the community.

But beans, rice and charitable giving weren’t the only thing Leon gained notoriety for. The 56-year-old served six months in federal prison for conspiring with former Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts to illegally release illegal immigrants from the custody of the Lexington County Sherif’s Department (LCSD) before they could be processed by federal authorities.

He was on probation following his release when he killed Bravo.

(Click to view)

(Via: Facebook)

After individual meetings with those who’d indicated they heard of the case, jurors deemed qualified were asked to return to their seats so that jury selection might begin.

Hubbard, previously described by this news outlet as “one of the state’s most capable, experienced prosecutors and arguably the best courtroom closer” spent the morning scanning the jury panel with a hawkish attention. He moved to strike few jurors during the selection process.

Jack Swerling – whom this news outlet has referred to as “one of (if not the) best criminal defense attorney in South Carolina” – also spent the morning examining the panel.

Within a few minutes a twelve-person jury – and set of three alternates – were seated. Jurors then left the courtroom so that a number of last minute evidentiary issues could be settled prior to opening statements.

The conclusion of pre-trial arguments provided a foretaste of what we should expect to hear as the trial progresses. Swerling argued Bravo had dangerous gang affiliations, while Hubbard countered that there was “no evidence tying him to a gang.”

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Swerling disagreed, leading to a discussion of the admissibility of photographs depicting Bravo with a group of gun-wielding men. The parties approached the bench and McLeod viewed the images. A ruling was not immediately issued.

These photographs weren’t the only contentious matter. While the sequestration of the majority of witnesses was agreed to by both parties, attorney Eric Bland’s sequestration was the topic of much discussion. Bland represents Leon in a different legal matter, but was referred to by Hubbard as a “friend” of Leon who “turned him in” and “led” investigators to the discarded murder weapon five days after the killing.

While neither side announced their intent to call Bland, Hubbard referred to him as “a material witness” and noted that he chose to not to be in the courtroom of his own volition.

The biggest development of the afternoon was McLeod’s decision to allow the jury to hear evidence suggesting that Leon engaged in witness tampering.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

When these allegations were initially leveled in front of S.C. Circuit court judge Debra R. McCaslin in July 2018, Hubbard suggested that the evidence was damning.

“He is on a recording telling a witness to lie,” Hubbard said.

This recording wasn’t enough for McCaslin – who previously worked with Leon’s former defense attorney Dick Harpootlian – to revoke Leon’s bond.

“What makes him so special?” Hubbard asked the judge. “What makes him different?”

Hubbard didn’t reiterate that question today when Swerling asked that Leon’s bond be extended for the duration of the proceedings. McLeod ruled that Leon will be allowed to attend court and spend time with his attorneys following court each day.

Jurors have been asked to return to court at 8:45 a.m. EDT tomorrow (June 20, 2023). Opening statements are expected to commence shortly thereafter.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell)

Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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1 comment

Cindy Lenger Top fan June 20, 2023 at 6:19 pm

Great article Dylan!! This is going to be interesting!!

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