For the last 8 years, Leon Winston has lived on death row for the 2002 murders
of a Lynchburg couple and their unborn child. But new evidence that suggests
he's mentally retarded may spare his life.
It's just the latest twist in one of Lynchburg's most notorious murder cases in
recent history and another roadblock, some say, to finding justice.
It was a warm April morning back in 2002. 2 young girls waited on the doorstep
of 410 Sussex Street with a tale-- that 10 years later--the lead detective
still can't forget.
"It doesn't haunt me, it saddens me probably more than anything," said Lt. Dave
Gearhart of the Lynchburg Police Department. "To be that young and to
experience that is something that no child should have to."
Detectives stepped in to a gruesome crime scene.
Ronda Robinson, who was 6-months pregnant, was gunned down by a man with a dog
tattoo while her 2 daughters watched. Their stepfather, Anthony Robinson, was
already bleeding to death downstairs.
The evidence against Leon Winston was strong. His DNA was on the murder weapon,
the victim's 8-year-old daughter testified seeing him at the murder scene, and
even his close friend told jurors Winston admitted to the killings.
The victim's sister reacted to Winston's behavior in court just after the jury
recommended he get the death penalty.
"He showed no emotion. He laughed a few times with his lawyers. He turned
around glanced at the pictures as they showed them as though it was a dead
bird," said Ann Marie Lewis back in 2003.
Shortly after the verdict was read, the lead prosecutor recognized the historic
nature of the case. It was the 1st time a Lynchburg jury recommended the death
sentence in more than 40 years.
"Nobody gets the death penalty until the prosecution says that's where we're
going. It's not an easy decision. It's not a pleasant decision but it is
justice," said William G. Petty back in 2003.
But Winston got a chance the Robinsons never had. In 2010, a federal judge
lifted his death sentence because of an IQ score of 66, below the 70 threshold
for mental retardation. The Attorney General's Office is appealing that
decision, so a 4th Circuit Court judge or a jury will likely determine his
fate. The Attorney General's Office says they're scheduled to be in court this
May. Winston's attorney's could not comment because of his pending appeal.
David Bruck, who advises attorneys with clients facing the death penalty,
wonders why Winston is on death row in the first place. Bruck is the director
of Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University.
"I think it would be a miscarriage of justice to execute this man because it
seems quite clear that he is so mentally disabled that under the constitution
it is not permissible," said Bruck.
He says in the last four years, Virginia has seen roughly 1,400 murders and
only two people out of those were sentenced to death.
"Leon Winston lost the lottery in order to get to death row and that's the
freakish part," said Bruck.
While Winston waits to hear whether the judge's decision will be upheld, two
little girls forced to grow up too quickly will wait too.
Winston is still living at the Sussex State Prison. He's one of 11 people on
Virginia's death row.
(source: WSET News)