Crime & Courts

Greg Leon Trial: Opening Statements, First Witnesses, Initial Evidence

Video of shooting shown to jury …

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

“This is murder.”

South Carolina eleventh circuit deputy solicitor Suzanne Mayes reminded twelve jurors and two alternates on Tuesday morning why they were summoned to the Lexington County courthouse as accused killer Gregorio M. Leon’s murder trial began in earnest.

“We’ll talk later about what that means under South Carolina law,” Mayes added, telling jurors Leon “had a plan” to commit the killing of which he stands accused – and which he in fact admitted on a 9-1-1 call.

“Now when we talk about having a plan, you’re going to hear evidence that his marriage had serious issues,” Mayes said, continuing her opening statement.

Those issues were allegedly borne out in an affair between Leon’s wife, Rachel Leon, and 28-year old Arturo Bravo.

(Click to view)

(Via: Facebook)

Did Leon know about this affair? According to Mayes, Rachel was “not very good at hiding it,” with her Facebook page being “devoted to Arturo.”

Rachel was “out and about stealing time with Arturo any time she could get.”

“Many marriages in this state, in this county, have issues, many marriages may experience some type of infidelity,” she said. “When that happens there are options.”

Mayes told the jury Leon could have “hired an investigator to catch her in the act,” for example. But that wasn’t how Leon chose to get to address his wife’s infidelity. Instead, prosecutors claimed his plan was to “catch them together, and when he did, (to) shoot them both and leave them both dead.”

In order to catch the couple together, Leon “put a tracker under the hood” of his wife’s white Mercedes-Benz SUV in January 2016 in order to be able to “strike when the time is right,” Mayes said.

“On Valentine’s Day 2016, the time was right,” she told the jury.

Mayes said her office is prepared to present evidence that on February 14, 2016, Bravo checked the GPS location of the tracker while working at one of his restaurant locations and saw his wife’s car parked near the John Deere dealership on the Interstate 20 off-ramp. He ran to his car (already armed) and sped away to address the situation.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Leon arrived on the scene and saw his wife’s car parked next to a Toyota Tundra. He approached the truck and flung open the door. Mayes emphasized that at this moment, “Arturo was unarmed, defenseless, he had no gun.”

Arturo was nude except for his socks and was “shot multiple times in the back” prior to dying “right there on the pavement.”

“Then, in an act of cowardice, (Leon) hops in his Range Rover and flees the scene,” Mayes said. “You’ll hear evidence that his first calls after he flees the scene are to an attorney.”

After this call to attorney Eric Bland – and a call dispatching his son to the scene – Leon finally called 9-1-1. Mayes told jurors his “motive and intent” were made absolutely clear” when he told the dispatcher: “I shot my wife and her lover, I shot them both – she is cheating on my ass.”

Citing the letter of the law, Mayes told jurors malice aforethought (a statutory prerequisite for a murder conviction in South Carolina) “doesn’t require … a long period of premeditation.”

“If malice was present just before the bullet hit, the threshold would be crossed” she said.

Support FITSNews … SUBSCRIBE!

***

It seemed for a moment as though Mayes had finished making her argument, but she then turned to the jury to address another angle of this complex narrative.

“He was charged with murder on February 14, 2016,” she said. “But it doesn’t end there.”

In Mayes’ eyes, Leon took “the law into his own hands” again when he allegedly conducted witness tampering, bribery and perjury – all of which Mayes said the state would produce evidence of. Mayes told jurors the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) became involved in the case – without Leon’s knowledge – and that evidence was collected showing a witness leaving a San Jose restaurant with cash after making a false statement to an attorney.

“By creating these false statements, in his mind, he could make this case go away,” she said.

Mayes was adamant, though, that the case would not go away.

“It is not a case of self defense, and it never was,” she said. “It was about Greg Leon having a plan, and seeing that plan through.”

Mayes sat, and Swerling stood – ready to set the stage from the perspective of his client.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Swerling started slower, beginning with a remark about how much he enjoyed working in Lexington County – but soon he settled into a more serious tone, telling jurors the definition of the word verdict is “to speak the truth.”

The jury seated just yesterday have become, in Swerling’s words, “the most fair and impartial jurors that could be sat to try Greg Leon.”

The importance of the presumption of innocence was also stressed.

“This isn’t just something from Law and Order,” Swirling said. “Until the state proves (its case) beyond a reasonable doubt, you are to presume that he is innocent, and that presumption stays throughout the trial and into jury deliberations.”

“Right now the important decision is whether Greg Leon is guilty” Swerling said, quickly diving into his argument as to why he is not.

At the heart of that argument? A vastly different take on the relationships at the center of this story.

“Ms. Mayes has painted a beautiful picture of a Romeo and Juliet marriage between Rachel and Greg Leon,” he said.

Mr. Swerling contended this wasn’t the case, however. As he spoke, he turned to the gallery – where most of Leon’s seven children sat in support of their father.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

In explaining the Leons’ fractured marriage, Swerling spoke ill of Bravo. He referred to him as a “gigolo” – saying he used that term “because (Bravo) took advantage of her.”

“He took advantage of Rachel Leon,” Swerling said. “He milked her, he took money from her … he had Rachel buy him a Toyota Tundra and pay for its insurance.”

Swerling emphasized the immorality of the affair – financially and ethically – with every word.

Swirling’s steamrolling of Bravo briefly subsided when he said, surprisingly, that he wasn’t going to “stand up here and argue that there wasn’t a loving relationship between the two of them.” There was a relationship, he said – one which evidently caused changes in Rachel Leon.

“She wasn’t tending to her beauty, she lost a ton of weight one of the concerns Leon had was that she might be using illegal drugs, she had lost a lot of weight,” Swerling said conversationally.

The seasoned attorney moved through his oration as though he were catching a group of friends up on the situation.

“He took advantage of her with the car, the money,” Swerling continued. “He took advantage of her, and its a sad story, any time there is an affair and someone finds out about it, it could destroy their lives.”

Suddenly Swerling swelled with emotion, bellowing “this was the kind of affair that was taking place IN THE BACK SEAT OF CARS IN PARKING LOTS.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

“That was what Rachel was being subjected to in the parking lots around the county,” Swerling added.

The GPS tracker which eventually led Leon to his unfaithful wife was never installed with the intent of exposing adultery, Swerling said. According to him, adultery “wasn’t something (Greg Leon) thought about.”

“What kind of man was Arturo Bravo, what was he about?” Swerling asked the jury, closing to his full frontal assault on Bravo.

With a bleak picture of Bravo sufficiently painted, Swerling addressed the shooting. He told the jury after his client arrived to his wife’s GPS location that he didn’t “make any kind of tactical approach like he was going to do something, like a murder.”

Sterling described how his client was blinded by Bravo’s headlights as he circled the vehicle, saying he “grew very concerned, went to the side door of the Tundra, and opened the door.”

Leon asserts that Bravo threatened to kill him and reached for something, telling jurors each of them have the right to fire “before someone else gets the drop on you.”

Swerling addressed the call to Bland immediately after the shooting, saying “he called his lawyer, to let him know what was going on, then he did the appropriate thing, he called 9-1-1.” Swerling added Rachel Leon was not shot “despite what he said on the phone.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Repeatedly citing his compliance with the law, Swerling noted Leon turned himself in to authorities of his own volition, saying “he did the right thing there as well.”

Swerling next pivoted to the witness tampering allegations asserting that “the focus of this case needs to be on February 14, 2016.”

“You know how magicians do magic tricks, they want you to focus over here, when the trick is happening in the other hand,” he said. “The focus of this case should be on February 14th.”

Scarcely after an hour after court convened, the state called its first witness – the 9-1-1 dispatcher who fielded Leon’s infamous call. Mayes asked him if Leon said anything on the call about his life being threatened.

“Not on this phone call, no,” he said.

The state then called James Forsyth – who was employed by Lexington County EMS for seventeen years and who responded to the shooting that evening.

Forsyth told jurors he arrived with his sirens and lights off, as he knew he was responding to a shooting and wanted to avoid drawing attention to himself.

Photographs taken by SLED crime scene investigators and still photographs from body worn cameras of responding officers were then admitted into evidence. This is when the jury got their first glimpse of Bravo – face-down, nude and dead on the pavement next to “his” new truck.

Swerling elected not to cross examine these first two witnesses.

The jury’s exposure to the aftermath of the crime continued when the state called Lexington police department sergeant Paul Walker.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Walker explained his officers separated Leon’s wife and son Gregorio M. Leon IV (whom Leon sent to the scene immediately after the shooting) for questioning.

Again, the prosecution asked if weapons were found at the scene.

“There were no weapons evident when we secured the parking lot,” Walker responded.

The fast-paced, low-friction morning continued with the state calling Carey Shealy – who has run Statewide Security System for nearly four decades. She retrieved video of the shooting for investigators.

With this vital video admitted into evidence, eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard called Lexington police lieutenant Brent Carter to dissect the footage.

“Did you ever get information, from your investigation, that Greg Leon’s life was in jeopardy?” Hubbard asked Carter.

“No sir,” Carter replied.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Carter also testified investigators hadn’t found any weapons on the scene – and that the victim was not suspected of committing any crime.

Hubbard asked Carter to clarify that shell casings were not found on the scene, this was not the first – or last – time that question was asked today, as prosecutors want to make it abundantly clear that the weapon investigators were allegedly led to days after the shooting by attorney Bland is the weapon used in the crimes.

The gun, a revolver, does not eject spent shells as a semiautomatic weapon would.

Carter said the romantic rendezvous looked “like a planned meetup.”

Video of the couple meeting shows them embracing like star-crossed high school lovers, Rachel jumping into Bravo’s arms. A golden box of Lindt chocolates and a stuffed bear sat in the truck.

Around thirty minutes of video were not shown to the jury, since there was little to see as Rachel and Bravo enjoyed each other’s company in the cab of the Toyota.

The tape resumes as Leon’s black Range Rover jets into the parking lot, positioned to block his wife’s Mercedes from pulling out.

Leon circled around the front of his wife’s vehicle, walking in front of the Tundra and drawing what appears to be a revolver. He then rushed to the rear passenger door, flung it open, and fired four shots into the vehicle.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

After the shooting, the video showed Leon quickly returned to his SUV. At this point, Hubbard highlighted his lack of thought for his wife.

“Watching this video, at any time, do you see him look for his wife and see if she is alright?” he asked.

“No I don’t,” Carter replied.

Swerling showed his experience on cross-examination, asking the witness if he saw the couple having sex in the the vehicle. Carter hadn’t.

“When Mr. Hubbard asked if you saw a threat inside the vehicle, you couldn’t see inside the vehicle?” Swerling asked.

“I couldn’t see anything inside of the car,” Carter responded.

Carter was repeatedly forced to testify to things he didn’t know. Among them? When the couple became aware of Leon’s presence, “what was going on inside of that truck”, whether Rachel screamed and whether the headlights had blinded Leon.

This was a point of contention, as the video made it abundantly clear the headlights were at waist-level since Leon was so close to the bumper of the vehicle.

“I’ve crossed in front of a lot of cars with headlights, you can see alright” Carter told Swerling.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Jamie Johnson was the last witness called by the state on Tuesday. Johnson currently investigates computer crimes against children for the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. At the time of this killing more than seven years ago, she was a SLED crime scene investigator. Johnson was the state’s first expert witness.

Johnson described the forensic documentation process in detail and several exhibits of the interior of the vehicle were displayed for the jurors. McLeod has asked members of the media to refrain from taking photographs of exhibits on the projector screen – but provided some exhibits for journalists to photograph after court concluded.

We hope to obtain more of the exhibits Johnson presented – including a photo showing the placement of a bullet found in the pavement behind Rachel Leon’s Mercedes and photos of a ricochet mark on the truck’s window.

After a whirlwind day of opening statements, witness testimony and evidence introduction, jurors have already become very familiar with the intimate details of the killing of Bravo – and what may have led up to it.

How are those details impacting their assessment of the case? We will have to wait to find out the answer to that question …

Stay tuned to this news outlet for additional in-depth coverage of the Greg Leon murder trial as it heads into its third day on Wednesday June 21, 2023.

***

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.

***

WANNA SOUND OFF?

Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.

***

Get our newsletter by clicking here …

*****

Related posts

Crime & Courts

Unsolved Carolinas: The Unexplained Death Of Geoff Hammond

Callie Lyons
Crime & Courts

North Charleston Police Chief Resigns

FITSNews
Crime & Courts

‘Absolutely Resign’: Councilwoman Threatens Police Officer During Service Call

Andrew Fancher

2 comments

Carla Golden Top fan June 21, 2023 at 8:59 am

Thank you for this detailed, comprehensive coverage Dylan!

Reply
CongareeCatfish Top fan June 21, 2023 at 4:03 pm

Some questions, Dylan: Why did it take seven and a half years for this case to come to trial? Is there any truth to the rumors that Greg had been helping the feds in some manner related to combatting mexican drug traffickers prior to this happening?

Reply

Leave a Comment