Crime & Courts

Greg Leon Dead

Restaurant mogul, convicted killer dies by suicide in South Carolina prison …

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A week after being found guilty of murdering his wife’s lover – and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison – South Carolina restaurant magnate Greg Leon died by suicide on Friday at Kirkland Correctional Institution, a S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) intake center located just north of Columbia, S.C.

Yesterday evening, this news outlet reported there had been an incident at Kirkland involving Leon. Details regarding his status were difficult to come by, however, with conflicting reports coming from all corners as to his condition. One published report from The Lexington (S.C.) Ledger indicated Leon had been “found deceased” in his cell.

Sources close to one of Leon’s attorneys refuted that account, though, insisting the convicted killer was “on life support” at a nearby local hospital.

As dawn broke Saturday morning across the Midlands – a region of the state where Leon’s popular San Jose restaurants made him a household name – the grim reality of what actually transpired began to slowly come into focus.

“They found him hanging in his cell,” a source familiar with the situation told us.

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Upon discovering Leon, cardiopulmonary resuscitation was immediately administered and the 56-year-old was transferred to a nearby hospital. Accounts regarding his condition varied, but sources close to the family indicated the native of San José de la Paz, Jalisco was “beyond saving.”

“They put him on life support for a few hours so everyone could say goodbye,” a source familiar with the situation told me, adding that first responders originally pronounced Leon dead at the scene.

Officially, Leon passed away shortly before midnight on Friday evening (July 14, 2023).

A statement issued on Saturday morning by SCDC confirmed Leon was “found hanging in his cell” at approximately 12:30 p.m. EDT on Friday and that “emergency lifesaving measures began immediately.”

“Leon had a cellmate but was alone in the cell at the time,” the statement continued. “His death is being investigated as a suspected suicide.”

Participating in that investigation are the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the office of Richland County coroner Naida Rutherford and SCDC’s inspector general.

“I am extremely saddened by the news of Greg Leon’s death,” his attorney, Jack Swerling said. “Greg was a good man. I spent scores of hours with him preparing for trial. He was a devoted family man, father of seven children, and a superb businessman from humble Mexican roots. He successfully established nine Mexican restaurants in the Midlands, was a generous philanthropist to many people and causes, a devout Catholic, and a valued friend to hundreds, if not thousands of people.”

“Throughout the time I represented him, he vigorously asserted his innocence,” Swerling added. “The one thing I am certain of is that Greg Leon never planned to kill Arturo Bravo Santos, as was alleged.  This is a tragic end to a tragic story.”

The official word of Leon’s death came early Saturday morning from VineLink – an inmate tracking system which publishes custody status updates from prisons as a service to crime victims. Vinelink listed Leon’s status as “out of custody” due to him being “deceased.”

Shortly thereafter, Leon’s death was confirmed by his former attorney and longtime friend, Lexington, S.C. lawyer Eric Bland.

“Life keeps delivering blows,” Bland tweeted. “My good friend and friend to so many Greg Leon passed away at 11:56 last night. I am really hurting. He left a legacy for sure.”

Leon was born and raised in the shadow of Sierra de Pénjamo, approximately 205 miles northwest of Mexico City. He built a thriving franchises of business in America – and, as Swerling noted in his statement, developed a reputation within the community for his generosity.

That reputation was not without controversy, though – most notably the “Valentine Asesinado” of 28-year-old Arturo Bravo, his wife Rachel Leon‘s lover.

Just hours after dinner with family and friends on the evening of Sunday, February 14, 2016 – Valentine’s Day – Leon shot and killed Bravo as he rendezvoused with Leon’s wife in the cabin of a silver Toyota Tundra pickup truck she allegedly purchased for him three days earlier (using Greg Leon’s money).

Leon had placed a tracking device on his wife’s Mercedes SUV and followed her after dinner to her rendezvous point with Bravo: The parking lot of a John Deere dealership at the intersection of Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 378.

“What the fuck have you done?” Leon told his wife after murdering Bravo, according to his testimony during the trial.

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

(Click to View)

Arturo Bravo and Rachel Leon (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Leon left Bravo to bleed out on the pavement – and left his wife alone in the Tundra as he sped from the scene. 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.

It took a Lexington County jury less than three hours to find Leon guilty of murder.

Eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard’s closing arguments earlier this month recapitulated nearly a week of testimony by state’s witnesses detailing the night of the shooting – implicating Leon in premeditation and an attempt to elicit false testimony following the murder.

“Greg Leon already knew his wife was having an affair,” Hubbard told jurors. “He knew she had a lover, it didn’t matter if it were Arturo Bravo or the deacon of her Baptist church. He took steps, leading up to Valentine’s Day, knowing that he wasn’t just going to catch his wife, he was going to catch them, and his plan was to kill two people, his wife and her lover, and he succeeded with killing one person.”

Leon’s murder case drew 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.

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Mexican restaurant magnate Greg Leon is handcuffed by Lexington County sheriff’s deputies after being found guilty of the 2016 murder of Arturo Bravo on July 6, 2023 (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

“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.”

Leon ran afoul of the law both before and after murdering Bravo. 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.

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.”

Leon reported to Kirkland on July 7, 2023. At the time of the incident under investigation, he was in the process of being evaluated by corrections officials in anticipation of a permanent placement. That’s similar to the process we described back in March for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh, who spent a little over a month at Kirkland prior to being shipped to an undisclosed location within the SCDC system.

As is our custom reporting on suicides, if anyone reading this post is dealing with issues that have them questioning whether to take their own life (or thinking of harming themselves), please – call a friend.  You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Or just text or call 988 (more info here). As I often say, “you are not alone – you are never alone.”

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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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7 comments

Avatar photo
VERITAS Top fan July 15, 2023 at 10:30 am

I don’t understand how Eric Bland can go on raving about a killer. Hope Leon’s wife suffers the rest of her pathetic life.

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Goody3 Top fan July 15, 2023 at 11:20 am

Sad story….sadder ending.

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Nanker Phelge July 15, 2023 at 3:12 pm

Dios mio, he commuted his own sentence.

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John Mellen Top fan July 15, 2023 at 3:29 pm

What happened to Leon’s wife?

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Observer (the real one) July 15, 2023 at 8:18 pm

I wonder if the conscience of the jurors responsible for putting him in this unliveable situation will bother any of them. I would say the same for the judge who sentenced Mr Leon but suspect that anyone capable of handing down such an excessive sentence is already devoid of a conscience, and has been for a long time. A man who built a sizeable restaurant empire, extended numerous acts of philanthropy in his community, and employed many people is gone. I wonder how many street thugs, who never contributed a thing yet took much from society this judge gave far lesser sentences to for murdering American citizens.

We are supposed to be tried by a jury of our peers. Were any successful businessmen of Mexican origin on Mr Leon’s jury? That may have been enough to get the conviction overturned on appeal. Too bad he will never find out.

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Wop July 16, 2023 at 12:25 am

Are you serious. An eye for an eye.

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Flood July 15, 2023 at 11:32 pm

It’s odd how so many people are defending this man even after he murdered another man and after he was involved in the bribery case against the former sheriff. I do hope his friends and family can get through this hard time though. The death of a parent or friend is never easy, no matter the circumstances.

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