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Leon Jermain WINSTON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: April 19, 2002
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: July 7, 1980
Victims profile: Anthony Robinson and his wife Ronda Robinson (six months pregnant)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Lynchburg, Virginia, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on January 29, 2004

The Supreme Court of Virginia




upon a petition for a writ of habeas corpus


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.

Autopsies were 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 right eye.

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.

The 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.

The .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."

Significantly, Winston 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 Sussex Street.

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 Sussex Street.

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.

Winston's girlfriend 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 robbing us."

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 nearby apartments.

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.

Winston's handgun 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 7, 1980

Sex: Male

Race: Black

Entered the Row: January 29, 2004

District: Lynchburg City

Conviction: Capitol Murder

Virginia DOC Inmate Number: 329099

In the 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 the closet. 

The 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.

A cab driver testified that on the night of the murders, he drove two black men to several homes in the area and saw them check 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

In June 2003, however, a jury not only convicted Winston of capital murder but during 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.

On 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 DNA 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.


State DNA lab review finds only one major error

By Christina Nuckols - The Virginian-Pilot

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 lab.

“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 murder.

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 mistakes.

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 the recommendation.

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.



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