On the morning of
Friday, April 19, 2002, Rhonda and Anthony Robinson were shot and killed
in their home in Lynchburg.
When police arrived,
they found that the rear door to the house had been forcibly opened.
Anthony's body was at the foot of the stairs and five 9-millimeter shell
casings were found around and under his body.
Rhonda's body was found
on the floor of the upstairs bedroom shared by her two daughters. Four
9-millimeter shell casings were found upstairs.
performed on both Rhonda and Anthony. Toxicology reports found no
indication of alcohol, opiates, or cocaine in either. The medical
examiner concluded that all wounds were inflicted upon both victims
while they were alive. The medical examiner also concluded that Rhonda
was pregnant at the time she was murdered.
Anthony died from blood
loss caused by eight gunshot wounds to his head, chest, abdomen, and
upper and lower extremities. In numbering the bullet wound tracks, the
medical examiner did not indicate the sequence in which Anthony was shot.
However, the medical
examiner established that a 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun caused
tracks 1 through 7 and a .38 caliber revolver caused track 8.
The bullet in track 1
entered Anthony's head above and behind his left ear, passed through his
skull causing a "large amount of destruction" before exiting through his
The bullet in track 2 entered Anthony's right jaw and exited
out of his mouth.
The bullet in track 3 grazed the surface of Anthony's
left cheek before it entered his chest, damaged his left lung and heart,
and stopped in his abdomen.
The bullet in track 4 passed front-to-back
through Anthony's right shoulder.
The bullet in track 5 passed from
right to left through the subcutaneous tissue of Anthony's abdomen.
bullet in track 6 entered Anthony's left upper back, and then passed
through his ribs, left lung, heart, liver, and stomach.
The bullet in
track 7 entered Anthony's right thigh and then passed through it.
.38 caliber bullet in track 8 entered the right side of Anthony's groin
at the base of his penis, and passed through the left scrotal sac before
lodging in his left thigh.
Rhonda's death was
caused by blood loss due to eight gunshot wounds. The medical examiner
identified three wound tracks associated with these wounds. The bullet
that caused the first wound track entered at the top of her head and
passed through her forehead. The bullet that caused the second wound
track passed through Rhonda's chin into her neck and chest, where it hit
major blood vessels before exiting through her back. The bullet that
caused the third wound track passed through Rhonda's neck.
Evidence at trial
revealed that on the morning of April 19, 2002, then eight-year-old
Niesha M. Whitehead was awakened by Rhonda, her mother, calling out that
"someone is in the house."
Niesha saw two black
men outside the second floor bedroom she shared with her sister, Tiesha,
then five years old. Niesha testified that she saw her stepfather,
Anthony, go downstairs with one of the two men. This man was dressed in
black clothing and wore gloves. Niesha called him "Mr. No Name." She
testified that "Mr. No Name" had a tattoo that looked like "a big dog."
concedes that he was present on this evening, but asserts that he did
not shoot anyone. As between Winston and the other man who was an
intruder in the home, Kevin Brown, Winston is the person with a tattoo
of a dog on his arm.
Niesha testified that
after Anthony went downstairs with "Mr. No Name," she heard shots. Brown,
who Niesha called "Mr. No Name's Friend," stayed upstairs with Rhonda
until "Mr. No Name" came back upstairs. "Mr. No Name" chased Rhonda into
the girls' bedroom and shot Rhonda in front of the girls. Niesha led her
sister to a closet where the two girls hid. Later, Niesha left the
closet and discovered the bodies of her mother and stepfather.
A cab driver testified
that he picked up two black males, one of whom he identified as Brown,
in the early morning hours of April 19, 2002. He drove the men to
several homes where the two men would leave the cab and walk around the
house checking the windows, but not entering the houses. He remembered
that one of the houses was on Sussex Street. The Robinson home was on
Michelle Lipford, who
had purchased drugs from Winston and Brown in the past and had been
sexually intimate with Winston, testified that at about 5:00 a.m. on
April 19, 2002, she drove Winston and Brown to the Robinson's home on
She testified that she
parked a block away from the Robinson home and Winston and Brown left
the car for approximately 5 minutes and then returned. They went to her
home on Pierce Street. Winston and Brown asked her to drive them back to
Sussex Street. She complied and parked a block away from the Robinson
home. Winston and Brown got out of the car. After about 15 minutes,
Lipford heard gunshots and drove away.
received a call from Winston at about 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April
19, 2002 asking her to pick him up at a carwash, a short distance from
Sussex Street. She did so.
The evidence revealed
that a neighbor of the Robinsons was awakened by gunshots on the morning
of April 19, 2002. She described hearing three shots and then five shots.
Nathan Rorls, a
longtime friend of Winston's, testified that Winston telephoned him and
stated that "he slumped two people down here," meaning that he "murdered
somebody; killed somebody." When Rorls saw Winston the next day, Winston
stated that he "killed two people and robbed them and stuff."
Winston produced a
handgun from under his shirt. Rorls described it as "a black gun like an
automatic, it was like a Glock or a nine." Winston also displayed cash
and cocaine that he stated he took from the Robinsons. He told Rorls
that he and Brown took $2000 and two ounces of cocaine. Rorls recited
what Winston told him.
According to Winston,
Brown took Anthony downstairs and shot him first in the stomach. Winston
then shot Anthony when he came "running up the steps talking about they
Rorls testified that,
"So Winston said he shot him like up in the face or somewhere in the
upper body coming up the stairs. And he told me, he said, he don't want
to leave no witnesses, so he turned around and he shot that bitch."
Winston told Rorls that
he committed these crimes because he had been robbed several days
earlier and "he needed to make his money back up, he didn't get paid."
Rorls also stated that Winston told him that Rhonda was pregnant.
Winston was arrested at
his girlfriend's home on April 25, 2002. The woman gave police a set of
keys that Winston left in her house. The keys fit locks to doors at two
At one of the
apartments, occupied by Robin Wilson, the police recovered a 9-millimeter
off-brand handgun manufactured by a company located in Tennessee and
made to resemble a Glock. Winston had left the handgun with Wilson to "hold"
for him, and had failed to retrieve it before he was arrested. Winston
had called Wilson from jail after he was arrested and requested Wilson
to continue to "hold" it.
seized by police at Wilson's apartment had one unspent round in the clip
magazine. The cartridge bore the identical stamping as the casings
recovered at the Robinson murder scene.
A forensic scientist
testified at trial that five bullets recovered from the Robinson's home
and two bullets removed from Anthony's body were fired from Winston's 9-millimeter
handgun recovered from Wilson's apartment.
Nine cartridge casings
recovered at the crime scene had been ejected from Winston's 9-millimeter
handgun. Another forensic scientist testified that biological material
recovered from the 9-millimeter handgun matched Winston's DNA profile
and was inconsistent with Brown or either of the Robinsons. The
probability of a random selection yielding this result was greater than
one in six billion.
Leon Jermain Winston
Date of Birth: July
January 29, 2004
Conviction: Capitol Murder
DOC Inmate Number: 329099
early morning of
April 19, 2002, Anthony Robinson and his pregnant wife Ronda,
were shot in
their home on
Sussex Street while
their two daughters hid in
8-year old daughter, Niesha Whitehead, testified in court that she saw
two black intruders outside her second-floor bedroom she shared with her
younger sister and
then saw one of
the men take her stepfather downstairs. She noticed
the man had a tattoo that looked like
a “big dog” and heard shots from below. She also testified that
the man later came upstairs; she saw
him shoot her mom.
cab driver testified that on the
the murders, he drove two black men
to several homes in the area
the windows; he identified one of
the men as Kevin Eugene Brown and one of
the homes on Sussex Street.
Brown was charged with capital murder but was only convicted of second-degree
murder and formally sentenced to 43 years in prison on
November 8, 2003.
June 2003, however, a jury not only convicted Winston of capital murder
the penalty phase, recommended that
he be sentenced to death. Winston’s attorneys presented extensive
mitigating evidence; his mother
had abused alcohol and drugs while pregnant with him.
Jan. 29, 2004,
Circuit Judge Mosby Perrow III
followed the jury’s
recommendation and formally sentenced Winston to death. The
Virginia Supreme Court
upheld the capital murder
conviction and sentencing on
Nov. 5, 2004.
Almost a year later, a review of
by the Virginia Department
of Forensic Science ordered by then-Gov.
Mark Warner found an error in the
testing of a glove presented as evidence during trial.
DNA evidence for
the murder weapon, however, was free
of any errors.
By Christina Nuckols - The
September 17, 2005
A national team of scientists found no pattern of
serious errors in criminal cases handled by the state DNA lab, according
to a report released late Friday.
In their review, however, the experts discovered an
improper interpretation of biological evidence used in the trial of a
man sentenced to death for a Lynchburg double murder.
In May, Gov. Mark R. Warner ordered a comprehensive
examination of lab procedures after an independent audit found that lab
scientists had twice botched DNA tests in a 1982 rape-murder case.
Auditors also rebuked lab staffers for failing to catch the errors in an
internal investigation of those tests last year.
Five nationally known scientists were selected to
review the lab’s work on 123 criminal cases that involved small amounts
of DNA, which increases the chances for error. In their report, the
scientists said they found no procedural errors that “substantially
affected the integrity of the results.”
Warner welcomed the report as a positive one for the
“This lab has an international reputation as a leader
in fighting crime … and I think this review bolsters that reputation and
serves as a reaffirmation of the integrity with which our scientists do
this work,” he said in a written statement.
The scientists did, however, alert lab leaders to
improper conclusions reached in the case against Leon Jermain Winston by
Nicole E. Harold, an analyst in the state’s Roanoke regional lab.
Winston is an inmate on Virginia’s death row. His
case is under appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the Winston case, the report said Harold
disregarded test results conflicting with her hypothesis that a glove
contained DNA from all three men suspected in a 2002 robbery that led to
a double slaying.
The scientists also rebuked Harold for failing to re-test
the glove samples when the results were incomplete.
Winston, 24, admitted participating in the attempted
robbery of Rhonda and Anthony Robinson, but he said an accomplice shot
the couple. Rhonda Robinson was six months pregnant at the time of the
murder, and her 4- and 8-year-old daughters watched her die.
The scientists agreed with Harold’s conclusion that
the three men, including Winston, could not be eliminated as possible
sources of DNA on the glove.
They said she was wrong, however, to say in lab
reports and during trial testimony that the sample was at least 1.1
billion times more likely to have come from Winston and his accomplices
than from three random individuals.
Defense attorney Leigh Drewry, who represented
Winston at trial, said the error raises serious questions.
“If somebody is going to take a man’s life, they need
to do it without making mistakes, and they made a mistake here,” he said.
“People need to be aware the science of DNA is only as good as the
people doing it.”
Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney William Petty said
the error does not absolve Winston. He said the scientists found no
fault with test results showing Winston’s DNA on the murder weapon.
Petty also said much of the conviction rested on a
witness who testified that Winston had given him the gun after the
Betty Layne DesPortes, chairwoman of the
jurisprudence section of the American Academy of Forensic Science, said
that while the report states no other major errors were detected,
recommendations made by the scientists imply that they found other
The report includes a recommendation that the lab
adopt better quality-assurance measures for controls that must be
performed with each DNA test.
The scientists gave no explanation for why they made
They also advised lab leaders to require
documentation whenever a lab analyst chooses to disregard some test
results in reaching conclusions about DNA samples.
Although the scientists were not asked to re-test
evidence in cases, DesPortes said the brevity of the nine-page report
suggests that they took a narrow approach in their review. The
independent audit last spring that first raised concerns about the lab
was 18 pages long and covered a single case. An appendix to the more
recent report containing the five scientists’ resumes numbered 35 pages.
The leader of the organization that audits crime labs
said the review complied with his request for a broader examination of
Virginia’s DNA testing.
Ralph Keaton, executive director of the American
Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board,
said the report offers no basis for continuing penalties imposed on
analyst Jeffrey D. Ban.
Ban was ordered to cease low-level DNA tests and was
removed from a supervisory role after the spring audit found fault with
his work on the Earl Washington Jr. case.
Washington spent nearly 18 years in prison for the
rape and murder of a Culpeper woman before being pardoned in 2000.