Sussex Street Killer Avoids Death Penalty
Lynchburg, VA - A man scheduled to be executed for the 2002 killings of a Lynchburg couple and their unborn child, will not be put to death.
The Commonwealth's Attorney held a news conference Thursday to announce he's agreed to re-sentence Leon Winston to three life sentences, plus 73 years without the possibility of parole.
Mike Doucette said he and the victims' family agreed to take the death penalty off the table to avoid a legal battle and even more appeals.
The decision comes after Monday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that Winston's trial attorneys were ineffective and should have submitted IQ tests,suggesting he's mentally retarded. It's an oversight that's weighed heavily on Leigh Drewry, the lawyer who defended Winston in court.
"I was preparing myself to live with the fact that I might have cost a man his life," Drewry said, after his learning his former client would not be executed.
At Thursday's news conference, Doucette called Leon Winston's crimes 'horrific,' and the decision to seek the death penalty 11 years ago, appropriate.
"The Commonwealth of Virginia reserves the death penalty for those who commit the most vile of murders," Doucette said. "Having personally walked through the crime scene on April 19, 2002, I can say without reservation that Winston's crime met that criteria."
Winston was sentenced for the shooting deaths of Anthony and Rhonda Robinson, who was visibly pregnant, inside their home on Sussex Street.
Prosecutors said the high court's ruling left them with two options: empanel a new jury to prove Winston was not mentally retarded, or agree to give him three life sentences without the possibility of parole.
"The family feels confident in the fact that Leon Winston will never leave the penitentiary except inside a box. And that was the comfort they had in coming to this particular decision," Doucette said.
And so Leon Winston, the first person sentenced to die by a Lynchburg jury in more than 50 years, will live.
And two girls, whose mother died while holding their hands, won't have to relive the nightmare in court.