Gardner Found Guilty of Murder After Less Than Three Hours of Deliberation

Family and friends of Leslie Pinkston gather outside of the courthouse following the verdict.
Family and friends of Leslie Pinkston gather outside of the courthouse following the verdict.

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.

DEFENSE’S CLOSING

“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.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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62 Comments

  1. Biddlin

    Who contrives these post verdict photos and why is the Vanguard stirring the pot with them? They are tasteless and pointless. I seriously doubt all the loved ones of the victims got together for a photo, unless prompted.

    ;>)/

      1. Biddlin

        Because for someone who so often pimps “restorative justice,” you seem to seek out the most provocative and irrelevant photos to accompany trial stories, and others. It cheapens your appearance and gives lie to your proclaimed mission and goals.

        ;>)/

        1. Tia Will

          Biddlin

          for someone who so often pimps “restorative justice,”

          I am unclear how you see the issue of restorative justice ( whether “pimped” or promoted) as relevant to the issue of unrelated or non contributory photos. Can you clarify ?

        2. Antoinnette

          Just a thought, Biddlin…but maybe perhaps a part of “Restorative Justice,” means seeing first hand what you have done to another human being???

          Part of the program is facing your victim…maybe Gardner will be able to see photo’s in the Newspapers in jail and see the anguish on the faces of those he hurt when he chose to do what he did that day?

          Perhaps, it will bring remorse? Perhaps he can be forgiven once he exhibits remorse?

          I know it may be a long shot….but it’s a form of hope.

          Just saying…

           

      2. Biddlin

        I would add: These post conviction victory photos are, to me, promoting an unhealthy and disrespectful practice akin to the hundreds of roadside “memorials, littered with stuffed toys and candles that desecrate public thoroughfares throughout the western USA.

        ;>)/

        1. Biddlin

          No “reply” button, Tia, so I’ll reply to myself.

          “Can you clarify ?”

          What is the purpose of these photos, other than to inflame the viewers’ sense of vengeance and self righteousness(and of course to lure readers)? It smacks of “yellow journalism.”

          ;>)/

    1. Antoinnette

      @Biddlin…

      Sorry you feel that way, but yes, I prompted it. My intent was not to be pointless or tasteless, but rather to remember them and their pain, heartbreak in this story.

      Of course, we all see things differently. I do not believe I offended anyone in this photo by posting it, but if so, sure we can remove it per their request.

      I have  no evil or hurtful purpose in posting the pic,  but rather deep empathy for what they endured in losing their loved one to tragedy.

      I don’t believe I have disagreed with posting a picture of family and/or friends in any Newspaper, as long as it was tasteful.

      David  posted at my request.

       

       

       

        1. hpierce

          A different take… the photos in tonight’s Emptyprize came across as spontaneous and genuine, unlike the photos shown in this piece and after the Marsh trial.  The latter I feel were more opportunistic.

  2. PhilColeman

    The photo bothered me a little, but I’m not sure why. It certainly should not distract from the primary content of this column.

    Now, my question. What was the relevance of adding the gender and race of the unsuspecting driver?

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        having a white woman driving the killer into Winters would draw less suspicion”

        I find this a curious statement coming from someone who seems to favor the view that we are beyond racial biases.

        Are you stating that you believe that a “white” woman would draw less attention than a Hispanic, black, native American woman ? And if so, does that not argue for the ongoing impact of racial discrimination in our communities ? Or are you merely stating that you believe Mr.Gardner would have seen it that way ? Or, am I completely confused and misrepresenting your position ?

        1. Barack Palin

          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.

          Did you read the article?

        2. Highbeam

          T, I think the testimony, and the DA, did imply that that may have been the reason he picked Ms. Bewley to assist him – maybe it was just as simple as Gardner somehow thinking if he had someone of a different skin color than himself, it would create “camouflage.” I do not recall testimony stating that she was the only friend available that he could get to assist him (and not question him), but maybe that was all that it was, and she just happened to be white.

      2. Antoinnette

        and I believe that was his point yesterday, BP.

        Winters is mostly Hispanic and White, she would not have stood out. But again, cannot answer for Resig and his logic on stating that..

    1. Highbeam

      Also, that was the description by witnesses in the testimony, so it appears that those were Reisig’s words in the closing, reiterating the testimony. I am certain that description was not added by the author, so I left it in.

    2. Antoinnette

      Phil, I did not write those words out of my opinion, they were said in closing. I cannot answer for Resig and why he chose to describe her race, or being female. I assume to show jurors Gardner used a camoflauge.

      I don’t believe he was trying to be bias as to race either, but again, cannot speak for Jeff Resig.

  3. Tia Will

    I think that it matters because it is not newsworthy, adds nothing to the story, and although in this case does not appear jubilant as has sometimes been the case, adds nothing to the fact that this is a tragedy all the way around. Lives destroyed should not equal celebration of even a just outcome in my opinion.

    1. Frankly

      I attribute the “happiness” as nothing more that a feeling of relief that a significant milestone has been accomplished.  It does not mean that people are happy with the outcome.

      I have a different perspective for someone that commits a murder like this.   I don’t really care what happens to him as long as he is eliminated.  My assessment of his value to humanity is about the same as is a single fly.  There are billions of people on the planet deserving of empathy and compassion and consideration… he is nothing after having committed that act.

  4. Tia Will

    BP

    Did you read the article?”

    Yes, and reading the same article does not mean that we have the same interpretation of the account. I was merely trying to clarify your meaning. You chose not to respond. However, Highbeam has chosen to respond in a manner that does present some food for thought.

  5. Tia Will

    Biddlin

    I don’t like the use of these photos either, but I am still not seeing the relevance to David’s position on restorative justice? That was my only question.

  6. justme

    Why not show a picture of a family who has been through hell and can finally feel that they have some sort of closure and the sense of knowing that Leslie has justice???? Not one person in that picture looks overly joyed… They look exhausted and spent…

  7. Davis Progressive

    this site is baffling to me.  earlier this week we had a public candidate lie and attempt to cover up the lie and a large percentage of people focused on how david got the information rather than the transgression.

    now we have an innocuous photo of family and friends undoubtedly relieved by the verdict and the focus is not on the horrible deeds that gardner did, but rather an innocuous photo.

    to which i say: REALLY?

    1. Barack Palin

      You have several contributors on this site who have condemned the Enterprise for precisely the same types of photos.  I think this is all getting stirred up now because the Vanguard put up basically the same type of photo.  I happen to agree with you that it’s no big deal.

      1. Antoinnette

        Actually, this photo was not to show a celebration of any sort, BP….take a look at their faces…nothing like that.

        It shows a group of people who loved her, who sat thru an anguishing two weeks of trial and albeit happy with the outcome of the verdict, are still in mourning.

        That is about it…you may be comparing apples to oranges with photo’s.

        Although, photo’s are still photo’s…I guess.

    2. Antoinnette

      DP

      My sentiment exactly. I am appalled that there is argument over a photo, rather than what the story is about?

      It makes me feel sad for the family and friends…this is the best we could do? is argue over the posting of their photo, rather than acknowledge their tragic story of heartbreak and pain.

      I am a little sick at my stomach, especially for the comment about believing someone’s memorial to put toys, flowers, etc. at the site of their loved one’s last breathe as mere trash on the side of the road…at least that is how I interpreted? Biddlin..

      If it isn’t a headline title, it’s a photo….what will it be next? lol…

      1. hpierce

        And yet, do we have any information about how the convicted murderer’s family feels?  The answer is NO.

        Survivors generally choose how they want to express their emotions.  Not here.  The survivors are paraded in front of the public to let them know how “special” they are to the voyeurs.  So bloggers can comment on them and dissect their emotions.  Hello carrion birds.  My bad, after all, it’s NEWS and we need to be transparent as hell.

        1. David Greenwald

          “And yet, do we have any information about how the convicted murderer’s family feels? The answer is NO.”

          That’s a strange criticism, more often than not, the Vanguard works with the defendant’s family than the victim’s family

        2. Antoinnette

          hpierce..

          I only met the brother of one of the friends who testified. He didn’t really know Gardner much, or his family, but he did convey shock over what happened. But that was about it.

          I am sure his family is hurting, no doubt.

          You say, “paraded,” as though we lined them up like at a circus? What they expressed was “real,” be it sadness, tears or joy, relief. I don’t share your opinion that News has to be transparent.

          We have some decent reporters out there.

           

           

           

  8. Biddlin

    “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.”

     

    Really? One would think that they would have found considerable consolation in a “guilty on all counts” verdict. Perhaps one of us is confused about the meaning of “inconsolable.”

    ;>)/

      1. Alan Miller

        “wow, you’re poking fun of the writing of an intern, likely a college student.  i hope that makes you feel good?”

        Wow, that was actually more insulting than the initial tasteless insult.

        Congratulations everyone, this entire discussion is a Vanguard comments section all-time low.

        Happy Halloween!

    1. Highbeam

      B, I think what the author intended, and I also think the word in question conveys, was that they were sobbing, crying etc, as often occurs throughout a funeral – when those left behind may be at the height of their pain and grief, and have not yet felt any consolation, acceptance, whatever. So that it was the outbursts of emotion that resembled, to the observer, a time prior to consolation or healing or relief that a wrong has been avenged, etc. That was my reaction to the observation, anyhow. And I try, in the limited copy editing time, not to change the observations of the reporter.

    2. Antoinnette

      Biddlin….I do not know if you have ever lost a loved one? But from my personal experience, being inconsolable at different moments is characteristic of the trauma.

      Yes, they were relieved but for most of the people I have come in contact with during these trials, after they are finished, most are overcome no matter what the outcome. Attorneys are not extinct either.

      It is an emotionally letting go sometimes and pent up grief of having to re-live a situation, I imagine? But perhaps a doctor of Psychology would have the best answer.

       

       

  9. Biddlin

    Hardly poking fun, rather gently chiding a repeat offender, who has poo-pooed corrections in the past, declaring that she needn’t know proper grammar to report trials. Since proper usage and grammar convey correct meaning, I must disagree with her.

    ;>)/

    1. Antoinnette

      LOL….poo pooed?

      Not only is that comment quite amusing, Biddlin, but hardly my sentiment.

      My point was never that grammar  should not be considered in anything we write but that it shouldn’t be the focus of the story….nothing more.

      I believe I have always expressed gratitude for helpful criticism.

      I think what took me by surprise is the way it was brought to the table? Perhaps if we use better, “wordage,” in making a point coupled with a little kindness, one may be more inclined to listen to correction.   Just a thought….lol

      But hey, thanks for reading…as always. Happy Halloween….:)

       

  10. Tia Will

    I have a lot of problem with the depiction of one side of an artificially constructed win-lose situation. From my perspective, there is no win here. What has been lost is the positive potential from not one but two members of our society. We may have lost the positive potential of Mr. Gardener many years ago, and only just recently had the loss of his victim. But what we are really seeing is the end result of  thee actions of an individual who for what ever reason ( nature, nurture…..whatever) was inadequately socialized to the degree that he no longer saw the right of another human being to live as having precedence over his selfish desire for control over her. There is loss here not only for the family and friends of the victim, but also for the family and friends of Mr. Gardener. How such a tragic event is a cause for jubilation ( which is what is being demonstrated in the second pic) is beyond my capacity to understand. This second photo looks more appropriate to the winning of the World Series than it does to the end of a tragedy. I do not blame the individuals depicted as they were doubtless relieved at the outcome. However, I do feel that to publish such pictures is completely unnecessary and is a complete failure in terms of portraying the full range of feelings from jubilance, to relief on the part of one family , to devastation and loss likely being experienced by another.

  11. Justice for Les

    Antoinette, Thank you. Thank you for posting such accurate accounts of what took place throughout this trial. I sat through every day of trial but one, and your accounts are, by far, the most thorough accounts reported. You provided the facts but took care to capture the humanity behind the story as well.

    Leslie was one of my closest friends. To me, she was family. While I was not in this photo, the group posted are all friends of mine. I think it is an absolute shame that the focus of the commenters remains on the photo attached vs. the article itself. I have spoken to a few of the friends in the photo, none of whom are bothered by it finding its way to print.

    In terms of what appears and has been speculated to have been a celebratory photo, celebratory it was not. It was relief. Relief that this monster who stalked, threatened and tortured our friend and countless others will not be able to rob another woman of her future, another family of their heart or another child of their mother. Relief that we might finally begin to regain a sense of inner peace. Relief that the wounds of which were ripped back open throughout this trial may begin to heal. Relief that we might be able to find hope in our hearts once again. Relief that we were granted justice as she rightfully deserved.

    Nothing will bring Leslie back. She will not be able to watch her daughter grow up, get married or have children of her own. She will not be there with us to celebrate our achievements nor will we get to celebrate hers. She was murdered. She was executed. She was robbed. We were all robbed of what should have been.

    We are broken and we are still attempting to pick up the pieces. Losing someone you love is heart wrenching. Losing someone violently is traumatizing. Empathy is key. I have learned that there is no right way to grieve. I have learned not to judge another’s grief. I have learned that those experiencing grief can oft times appear irrational through the discerning eye of speculation.  I hope not a soul on this board ever has to experience the pain we have endured. I hope those who waste time speculating the motives behind a snapshot or perceived actions a snapshot cannot fully show – I hope you attempt to conceive what it would feel like to lose someone you cannot live without in such a cold, cruel and violent way. I hope you learn empathy.

    And if the vast majority of you posting, if you are somehow involved or work within our justice system in some capacity, focus on how to be a part of the change. Leslie  had a restraining order in place against Will. He was in jail and pending trial for stalking and threatening her life. He was in jail 24 days and was somehow allowed to place 1005 phone calls to his victim while in custody. She was allowed to pay the reassumption fee that let him walk free. Days later, William Gardner followed through with his threats. He executed my friend in broad daylight and then calmly walked away.

    So instead of insulting the gravity of the circumstances surrounding this case; instead of making a mockery by dedicating your thought processes to the photos and your one sided depiction of them- instead of doing that – focus on the integrity that went into writing this detailed article and those that preceded. Focus on the facts presented and the fact that our justice system got this one right. Focus on the flaws within our system. Focus on paving way to change to what is broken or flawed. Focus on something meaningful.

    1. Antoinnette

      Justice for Les..

      I graciously thank you for your kindness. Your comment is both insightful and intelligent with a heartfelt sentiment. I appreciate it.

      I am so sorry for your loss and embrace you all for being able to sit thru this trial. I do know what it feels like to lose someone to a domestic violence tragedy. But unfortunately, we were the defendants family…

      It was nice to get to know some of you on a more personal level. My prayers go out to each and every one of you for healing.

      I agree, we need to work on improving our system. One case at a time…but agree, justice was served in this case.

      I commend those who worked tirelessly to bring that to you all; Ms. Hays, Jeff Reisig, and all the investigators, law enforcement, U.S. Marshalls.

  12. Tia Will

    As a doctor, I have seen both grief and compassion manifest in many, many different forms. I would like to focus on a somewhat different reaction from the mother of a student killed in a band hazing tradition. She said of the first of the convictions of those responsible for his death “.  I think that her reaction is what true compassion for another human being is all about. Here is what she had to say about “Martin”, the leader of the hazing group. She clearly recognizes that this was a deliberate act, that such hazings are known to have resulted in deaths and yet Martin and his associates persisted in their tradition. Her comments clearly reflect her understanding that while her own son’s life was ended, this will result in the ruin of the lives of all of those directly involved.

    Champion’s mother Pam said she’ll have tears for both young men: “[Martin] has to pay for what he has done. I won’t get my son back. But no one wins here.””

  13. tj

    Justice for Les, or someone else:

    Perhaps you can explain why Leslie was going – for 5 years it was reported – with a fellow like Gardner.  He doesn’t seem to have had employment, or employment equal to Leslie, he seems to have had marginal friends, not much family support,  he had a lot of problems already with violence, while Leslie had a loving mother and good friends, a good job, and drove a BMW SUV.   They don’t seem to have had much in common and she seems to have been in a far superior position, perhaps running the relationship on her own terms.  Gardner doesn’t seem like someone I’d want around my young child.

  14. Tia Will

    tj

    While I did not know anyone in this situation, it is my personal and professional experience that women not infrequently get themselves into abusive and or just inappropriate relationships that they then find if very difficult if not nearly impossible to extricate themselves from. This may be equally true for men and I just haven’t had the chance to observe it given my professional association with only women. However, in my experience it is not unusual for these extremely dysfunctional and mismatched relationships to last for years.

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