By Antoinnette Borbon
In what took less than three hours of deliberation, the jury members were escorted back into court to give their verdict. A Yolo County jury determined that William Gardner III was guilty of the murder of Leslie Pinkston on November 18, 2013. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on all charges and found all enhancements to be true.
William Gardner III was found guilty of first degree murder and five other counts, which include use of a deadly weapon, stalking and vandalism. All of the special circumstances/enhancements were found to be true.
As the verdict was read, family and friends sobbed loudly, hugged and held each others’ hands. As the courtroom cleared, it resembled, perhaps, a second funeral for Leslie Pinkston. Some of her closest friends and family were momentarily inconsolable.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig, along with Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays, prosecuted Gardner for the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend, Leslie Pinkston of Winters.
After a tumultuous relationship between the two ended, Gardner carried out a plan to end Pinkston’s life. In the early morning hours of November 18, 2013, Gardner lay in wait for Pinkston in her SUV, fatally shooting her in the back of the head when she returned to her vehicle. Then he fled to Las Vegas, where he was captured by U.S. Marshals and Las Vegas Police.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S CLOSING ARGUMENT
“A gunshot to the back of the head at close range, this is the ultimate power and control, execution,” DA Jeff Reisig asserted.
“When he slid into the back seat of her SUV with a heart full of premeditated evil, she had no idea she would be brutally murdered in her own car. She certainly wouldn’t have known she would be executed. He watched, waited, lurked to do his deadly ambush,” stated Reisig.
He told jurors that Gardner performed his own “street justice” on Pinkston, telling her in several texts, “I’m going to kill you, b—-.”
Reisig repeated the words of Ms. Hays who had stated, “His actions were intentional.”
Reisig said that Gardner used an unsuspecting white woman and her van to drive him to Winters that day to ambush and execute Pinkston, then fled to Las Vegas. Gardner said nobody would suspect the woman in the van. Reisig said that Gardner knew this.
“There was no escaping Gardner this time, remember his texts, he came there to silence the b—.”
Reisig stated, “He had [Nicole] Bewley take him there as a camouflage, she sat ignorant. He knew what he was doing, he used her phone to make calls and text his friend, knowing police would be able to trace his cell phone. He knows technology, he picked up women that way, he tried to pick up hookers in Vegas and even solicited sex the morning of the shooting on Facebook, you have seen that.”
Reisig described Gardner as mapping out the “kill scene” on the Friday before the shooting, with Bewley driving as he sat in the back seat of her van.
Gardner had the chance to tell his story to CBS news reporter Derek Shore, but he couldn’t, asserted Reisig.
He stated that Gardner never did give his story, although he had the opportunity, and that he never denied killing Pinkston and never showed any remorse.
Gardner got into the back seat of the BMW, it was a tactical decision and he used it to his advantage. He shot her in the knee, making her suffer before shooting her in the back of the head, Reisig explained.
He described Gardner’s conversation to Pinkston’s boyfriend, Keilae Johnson, as saying, “If I have to do three years because of her, I’ll kill her first.”
Reisig said Gardner made a decision to kill with each pull of the trigger, that “his actions were not of a crazed broken heart, but actions of a cruel execution. She had no idea he was going to kill her, she was caught by surprise.”
Reisig said that when Gardner fled to Las Vegas after the crime, he tried seducing a woman, but she found out he was wanted for murder and turned him in.
Reisig asserted once again, “Gardner’s actions were intentional as he lay in wait, wanting to kill her so she could not testify against him – he had motive to silence her.”
Reisig went over the death threats, text messages and phone calls Pinkston had received from Gardner. He explained the special circumstances, the enhancements on each count, “to assist you,” he told the jurors.
“This is not a second degree murder crime, or manslaughter, this is premeditated murder. He shot her and then got out of the car calmly, walking by Mr. Barbosa then to the van of Bewley. He got away, [and the] U.S. Marshals had to go out on a manhunt.”
Regardless of the sequence, he made a deliberate decision to kill, said Reisig.
“Ladies and gentlemen, everybody knows from junior high and up, they should know that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” began defense attorney J. Toney.
He said the law states it must be a certainty and there is none in this case in regard to the “killing of a witness, with enhancement.” Nor is there certainty that Gardner became so enraged that he would kill her to silence her.
“Remember the jail calls? He tells her he wants her to testify, she is the one who did not want to, he wanted her to. If he killed her so she couldn’t testify, why would he tell her to do it?” asked Toney.
Toney said that the prosecution wants you to believe Gardner became crazy, and jealous.
The People did an enormous job, they did everything they could, but what they didn’t do was find out where he could see her from the van, asserted Toney.
The defense told the jurors that Gardner didn’t take her by surprise, but that he told her he was going to kill her.
Toney said it’s nonsense to believe he intended to kill by surprise.
He asked the jurors to look at each enhancement, and to consider them carefully. He said, “Look at some of the witnesses, they had criminal pasts, were on probation and one had to be dragged in here.”
“I think Leslie had a poor choice in men, we can see that, like I tell my wife,” he stated.
Toney said that the district attorney is trying to convince you that some of the witnesses are credible, but “I want you to consider their testimony.”
“I want you to consider a reasonable answer,” Toney concluded.
FINAL CLOSING BY DA
In Jeff Reisig’s rebuttal argument, he told jurors that he wanted to take them to Las Vegas, where Gardner had a standoff with police. He said that during that time, Gardner called the CBS news station. He said Gardner had the chance to tell his story but he didn’t. Instead, he manipulated and controlled the situation.
He said Gardner had his “due process,” but he performed “street justice” of his own. Gardner killed Pinkston a little less than a year ago, stated Reisig.
“The friends, family and community deserve justice, it’s up to you.” he concluded.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS SPEAK OUT
It was a tragedy that shook a little town to its core. Shocked and saddened, the community in Winters came together to support and console one another during the days following the death of their beloved “angel,” as some put it today.
An overcome Emily Back sat weeping in the courtroom, but surrounded by friends and family with hugs and tears of their own.
“I just miss my friend,” she sobbed, “but I feel like there is some kind of justice.”
Another best friend, Daniel Collet, told the Vanguard, “I am glad this monster will be put away for taking away an angel from her daughter’s life.”
Friend Sara Madsen said, “Absolutely nothing can make it better, but this certainly helps, they did an amazing job.”
Alfredo Moreno, another close friend of Leslie’s who has been in court throughout the trial, said, “I am glad I was here, there’s some relief, it feels better.”
A red-faced, teary-eyed Marty Wentz stated, “She was loved by so many people and she will always be loved, and that will never go away.”
Leslie Pinkston’s niece, with her little children by her side, said, “I have to learn to live with the separation.”
As Pinkston’s mother walked down the courthouse steps, the crowd of family and friends exclaimed, “We can clap now, mom….we can clap now!” They all applauded.
Sentencing for Gardner will be on December 1, 2014.
Friends and family invite the public to a fundraiser for Pinkston’s little daughter on November 9, 2014, at 4513 Putah Creek Rd. It is a carnival to raise education money for Leslie’s daughter. Noon to 5 p.m. at the park.
“Admission is free, come out and join us,” friends and family add.