Crime & Courts

Greg Leon Trial: Fireworks During Testimony Of Defense’s Forensic Expert

Chaos erupts as attorneys trade barbs …

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As week two of the murder trial of South Carolina restauranteur Gregorio M. Leon drew to a close, things were running well behind schedule. Leon – the first witness called to testify for the defense – took the stand six days after the state completed its case with the testimony testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Janice Ross.

That testimony nearly resulted in a mistrial … and did result in a three-day delay.

Leon stands accused of murdering 28-year-old Arturo Bravo – his wife Rachel Leon‘s lover – on Valentine’s Day 2016.

After Leon spent nearly the entire day on the stand yesterday, defense attorney Alissa Wilson called Robert Tressel – a veteran Cobb County police department homicide investigator. Tresssel was qualified as a crime scene, bullet trajectory and forensic medical investigation expert witness.

Tressel reviewed all of the evidence made available to the defense throughout the discovery process – drawing his own conclusions as to what transpired on that fateful Valentine’s Day more than seven years ago.  Wilson first asked Tressel a series of questions about a the four fired projectiles found at the crime scene.

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Robert Tressel (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Investigators are sometimes able to triangulate shot trajectories by calculating the flight path of rounds that passed through objects – but circumstances do not always provide enough evidence to make an accurate prediction.

In this case, investigators have no way of knowing if the rear door of the Toyota Tundra in which Bravo was killed was open at the time of the shooting. As such, the bullet impact and ricochet found on the vehicle’s door cannot be used to conclusively determine the position of the shooter and the victim at the time of impact.

The door wasn’t the only variable identified by Tressel. The victim very well could have been moving, too.

“It’s dynamic, its all changing, how he reacts to a gunshot wound, how he reacts to the sound of a gunshot,” Tressel testified.

While the shooter and victim’s precise positions are unlikely to ever be known, Tressel was confident enough to testify Bravo’s wounds “could be consistent with him reaching for the center console.”

Interestingly, he concurred with Dr. Ross’ recent reassessment that Bravo’s arm was at his side when the shot to his upper right flank entered his body because of the presence of a “slap” wound pattern.

Tressel’s review of the investigation didn’t lead him to draw radically different conclusions about the vast majority of forensic details from those drawn by law enforcement officials.

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Deformed bullet from crime scene (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

He did delve into some unexplained details, though, such as the deformed bullet found on the asphalt feet away from the open door of Bravo’s truck. While all four bullets fired were recovered by investigators, they couldn’t conclude which of the two that weren’t lodged in Bravo’s body actually hit him.

Bravo was struck by two bullets that were stopped by his internal organs – and by one through-and-through shot that entered near his upper right flank and exited near his sternum.

Tressel believes this round ricocheted off of the truck’s window after passing through Bravo’s body.

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Bullet ricochet mark (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

If the truck’s rear driver side door was open during the shooting, this theory could explain the deformed round found on the asphalt – but the lack of biological matter on the bullet makes it impossible conclude with certainty. A similar theory could be applied to the round that struck the joint of the door and window. This bullet was recovered after investigators took apart the truck’s door.

While Tressel didn’t draw any radical conclusions, his analysis highlighted the reality that investigators often must work with an incomplete set of facts. As such, neither prosecution nor defense can prove Bravo was or wasn’t reaching for what looked like a gun at the time he was shot. Fortunately for the defense, prosecutors must prove Leon’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt – and inconclusive forensic evidence very well could constitute reasonable doubt for any of the twelve jurors.

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S.C. eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard cross-examines forensic expert Robert Tressel. (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard began his cross examination of Tressel by asking him if he had prepared a report documenting his findings – which he hadn’t. Hubbard wanted the jury to know that since none of Tressel’s findings were recorded, his office had no ability to prepare a response to what he might present.

Lead defense attorney Jack Swerling objected, seemingly upset Hubbard pursued this line of inquiry after he made sure to let the solicitor’s office know Tressel would be testifying.

Hubbard clarified Tressel couldn’t make any conclusive statements about the exact forensic details of the shooting.

Tressel told jurors he “can’t say what (Bravo)’s doing inside the vehicle.”

While this discredited Tressel on its face, it also served as a reminder that the state’s investigators couldn’t conclusively say what happened in the cab of the truck that night either – something Swerling made clear when he questioned

Mere minutes into Hubbard’s cross examination, though, chaos erupted. Hubbard asked Tressel if he had worked with an individual on the defense’s witness list in the preparation of his report. Swerling exploded, exclaiming that Hubbard “was notified a couple days ago that we are not using the witness he referred to.”

Equally upset, Hubbard responded “I think any attorney is entitled to ask any expert what they relied on.”

“I would never have asked that question” Swerling indignantly intoned, saying “thats not the way I practice law!”

Hubbard is absolutely entitled to ask Tressel who helped helped him prepare his report – as presiding judge Walton J. McLeod IV readily acknowledged before telling the attorneys to take five minutes to clear their heads.

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S.C. eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

After a brief in-chambers meeting, both attorneys appeared to have worked through their disagreement, and put their apologies to one another on the record. Hubbard told the court Swerling has “always been a gentleman, I did not mean to imply anything else.”

Both sides have genially interacted throughout the proceedings, and continued to do so after resolving their brief yet bellicose dispute.

Following the commotion, Hubbard had little else to ask the witness, who was soon dismissed from the stand.

The defense did not have another witness to call, and jurors were sent home early with instructions to avoid discussing the case at any fourth of July cookouts they may attend.

Stay tuned to this news outlet for continued coverage of Leon’s trial – which will gavel to order again this coming Wednesday (July 5, 2023).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Dylan Nolan is a journalist and video producer for FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore School of Business with a bachelors in Accounting in 2021, and has spent his professional career attempting to shine light on corruption and institutional failure in South Carolina through his journalism. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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2 comments

Observer (the real one) June 30, 2023 at 9:52 pm

Not guilty!

Reply
MaryContrary Top fan June 30, 2023 at 11:39 pm

No so fast there Observer. As we learned from the Murdaugh case, the jury has yet to speak.

Reply

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