by Antoinnette Borbon
The courtroom was packed with the friends and family of Leslie Pinkston today, often in tears during testimony about the defendant’s abusive pattern.
Testimony given alleged that the defendant, William Gardner, had been using women to prostitute for him. As the day progressed, a tale of events unfolded that led up to the shooting death of Leslie Pinkston.
William Gardner III has been charged with the death of Pinkston, who had ended an on-again, off-again five-year relationship.
Mr. Gardner allegedly lay in wait, then climbed into the black BMW belonging to Pinkston, fatally shooting her in the head in front of her workplace in Winters.
Carla Crane, Ms. Pinkston’s mother, testified to moving to Winters and renting a duplex with her daughter. She said she knew of the relationship but could not recall specifics. “I did not know if they were still intimately involved after their breakup.”
Ms. Crane described an incident where Gardner had thrown a chair through the duplex window. “Leslie was so scared she left and stayed with a friend until later moving in with her boss,” Ms. Crane stated. She said Leslie never went back to the duplex, not even to pack her things.
She was aware of several texts sent by Gardner during their breakup but did not know about any alleged threats to kill her daughter, Crane stated.
“I knew she had a restraining order for her, me and [Pinkston’s daughter].” asserted Crane.
During cross-examination, Defense Attorney J. Toney asked, “Did you know if Leslie was having a romantic relationship with Peter, her boss?” asked defense. “No, I did not, I don’t think she was,” replied Ms. Crane.
Jacline Kataoka testified to witnessing a fight between her friend and Gardner, but could not identify whether the man involved in that fight was actually Mr. Gardner.
Mr. Toney asked her if she knew what her friend was doing for a living. She replied, “No.”
Taking the stand next was an ex-girlfriend of Gardner’s.
A Sacramento woman, Rene Blankenship talked about the relationship she and Gardner shared. She said at first it was a dating thing and then she began working for Gardner as a prostitute. She met Gardner on Facebook.
Blankenship described an incident where Gardner had taken her phone and, as she tried to get it back, he slammed her head into a pole. She said she did not want medical attention but had to leave. She testified that she did not want to talk to cops about the incident or testify against Gardner.
She met Gardner in 2010 but did not know of any girlfriend. “If I had known he had a girlfriend I would not have seen him again.”
The defense asked if she tried to get away from Gardner, to end things. “No, you do not know what it’s like to be in a domestic violence relationship, [sobbing] when you’re in love with someone it’s hard to walk away.”
But Blankenship said she broke things off with Gardner once she knew about Leslie. She found an email that read, “You’re my wife, my life,” addressed to Leslie Pinkston. “I thought she was his prostitute too,” she said, sobbing.
“I met Leslie once when the three of us went to the Bay Area together. We rented a hotel. He told me Leslie would be working. I knew there was an ad posted but I think he was lying,” said Blankenship.
Another ex-girlfriend took the stand to tell about her relationship with Gardner during 2013.
Jessica Abbott stated that she and Gardner dated for a brief period in 2013, but grew apart.
She was asked to describe an incident that had happened in front of her mother and daughter. Jessica said she and Gardner had gotten into an argument, he pushed her up against a wall but she did not get hurt.
Abbott stated she was never hurt or threatened by Gardner and did not report the incident. She asserted, “The incident was not the cause of our breakup, we just grew apart, sometimes that happens.”
Abbott’s mother, Tammy Johnson, testified about the incident, stating, “I was in the living room, wasn’t really asleep and heard a commotion. I ran into the bedroom and saw Jessica on the bed. I did not see him push her but I told him if he ever laid a hand on my daughter I would call the cops.”
“What did he do after that?” inquired Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays. “He left,” replied Johnson.
FRIENDS OF GARDNER TESTIFY
Prosecution had been awaiting the testimony of Gardner’s friend, Shakqel Alima.
The witness was detained by his probation officer and escorted to court by police today.
Alima said he was not evading testimony but since the shooting, “me and my wife have been separated, leaving me homeless and without a phone,” he told District Attorney Jeff Reisig.
He said after hearing about the shooting, he was in shock and did not know how to handle all of what was going on.
Alima said that at around 6:00 a.m. on November 18, 2013, he awoke to find Gardner sleeping on his couch. He said he went back upstairs to sleep, and when he woke up about 10:30-10:45 a.m., Gardner was gone.
It was about 11 a.m. when Gardner returned, stated Alima.
He said that Gardner “knocked on my door, I opened it, and he said, it’s been real y’all, seemed depressed, I didn’t know what he meant.” He stated, “I just thought he was going through some stuff, I told him don’t do anything stupid.”
“Did he come in with a female?” asked Mr. Reisig. “Yeah, he came with a brown-haired woman, skinny, seen her maybe one time before? I couldn’t see how she got to my house though, think she was standing in driveway,” he explained.
DA Reisig asked him if he saw Gardner with a gun. He said Gardner pulled out a black revolver and asked him if he knew how to re-cock it. “He handed it to me, and then I handed it back to him,” Alima stated.
Alima said he did not know whether a van was parked in his garage, but he saw a brown van parked near his driveway.
“I told him, you gotta go, you can’t be here,” he asserted.
“You are on felony probation for weapons, correct?” asked Reisig.
“Yes, that’s why I told him he had to go,” replied Alima.
He said that shortly after that, Gardner left and returned about 5 p.m. or so. “The white girl was with him, he asked for my garage door opener so I gave it to him, I had a couch in there and just figured he was with a woman so, you know,” stated Alima.
He said that about a half hour later, he saw Gardner leaving in his blue Mercedes. But the brown Honda Odyssey van was still in his driveway.
He said the woman left with Gardner and soon returned to get her van and, afterwards, left.
Alima told Reisig, “I have not seen Gardner since that day, until now.”
It was later that day a friend called and told him to watch the news. Alima stated, “I saw and was concerned, but I was more in shock than anything, thought, damn this is crazy but more focused on the birth of my baby.”
Mr. Toney asked Alima if he had touched the gun, “Yea, I handed it back to him after he pulled it out to show me,” answered Alima.
“Did you ever get fingerprinted for this case? And did you know your fingerprints were not on the gun?’ asks Toney.
“And did you say you saw the gun in the morning? Or during the second time Gardner returned?” inquired Toney. “Um…yeah, it was in the evening when he asked me about the gun.”
“No, I didn’t get fingerprinted, and well, I handed him back the gun,” asserted Alima.
PINKSTON’S BEST FRIEND AND NIECE TESTIFY
Emily Back of Winters testified that she and Leslie had been best friends for about three years. She said she knew of the incident in which Gardner threw a chair through the window of Pinkston’s house. Back said she was aware of the couple’s tumultuous relationship.
“She came to stay with me for about a week after that night, she was scared, then she went to her boss’s house to stay. She didn’t want anyone to know where she was, she was scared,” stated Back.
She said Gardner had sent several texts to Pinkston. Some read, “I love you, and some were bad, she would ignore them.”
Back knew about the restraining order Leslie had gotten after the vandalism incident at her duplex. She said one day she arrived at Leslie’s work to find Gardner there and a terrorized looking Leslie.
“I asked him what the f—are you doing here? He wouldn’t look me in the eye, just kept looking at Leslie and said this was between them. He had a Bible in his hand and said he was going back to church, he was changing. I told him to get the f— out or I’m calling police. He wouldn’t leave.” Back stated.
She said she called the police and finally he ran off but Leslie told her to “hang it up, hang it up, not wanting people to know her business.”
Back said after spending about a week with her, Leslie went to live with her boss, Peter.
Defense asked Back if she had told the cops that Leslie had been in a sexual relationship with Peter. “Um…yes, I did,” answered Back. “How did you know that, who told you this?” asked Toney. “Peter did.” she replied.
A niece of Pinkston’s testified to seeing pornographic texts sent to her phone from Gardner. She said at first he thought he was sending them to Pinkston because Pinkston had used her phone. But she told Gardner to stop sending them, to lose her number; he continued to send the pictures.
The next day at a birthday party for Pinkston’s daughter, Gardner showed up and Ms. McCantis told him, “Don’t ever do that again, he laughed and said sorry.”
She stated, “Leslie was embarrassed,” McCantis testified to knowing about a post on Craigslist about Leslie offering sex but the contact number was sent to their grandmother.
McCantis stated, “I know if there were an ad for solicitation, it was ’cause of him over there.”
EXPERT WITNESS TESTIFIES ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Dr. Linda Barnard, who specializes in domestic violence cases, testified about the common traits of women who fall under the control of an abuser.
She has testified for prosecution and defense in several cases, counseling hundreds of women who have been victims of domestic violence.
She stated that victims can be from a poor economic background, as well as from middle to higher incomes.
“Women can lead a double life, and others never know what is going on,” asserted the doctor.
It is a cycle and victims often take the abuser back, feeling guilty for getting them in trouble.
After the abuse happens, a woman goes through what is known as the “honeymoon phase,” where the abuser treats them well for a while and they give into sex and into thinking the relationship will work out, taking them back.
Dr. Barnard testified that there are several myths about domestic violence. One of them is that the woman will always show that she is being abused; another is that only poorer families are afflicted with domestic violence.
She stated, “These are myths, some women never tell, too afraid of being abused again or killed, it is dangerous for them to leave, sometimes they are dead within three months so they don’t ever tell anyone.”
She said the victim is controlled by threats, children, and economics and will not leave the offender. Often times, the abuser will be allowed to stay in the relationship because of the children. The abuser is often sorry, stating, “It will never happen again, then they make up, this is the honeymoon phase.”
“Does a person ever get away from their abuser?” asked the defense. “Yes, sometimes, not often.”
“But would you say, hypothetical, if two people get angry in an argument, after talking about an incident, is this still in the ‘honeymoon phase?’ ” inquired Toney.
“No, they wouldn’t be,” answered Dr. Barnard.
Dr. Barnard explained the different forms of abuse and how they can harm the self-esteem of the victim.
She explained stalking and how it affects the victim. It is about control, she stated.
Emotional abuse like, saying mean/hateful things and/or putting the person down continuously and name calling – all can damage the self-esteem of an individual.
When asked by defense what causes a person to become an abuser, Dr. Barnard stated, “There is no way to give a definitive answer, it could be personality disorders, or other environments, just don’t know definitively.”
“If a child had been a victim of abuse, trauma, could it play a part in becoming an abuser?” asked the defense. “Yes, it could be,” answered Barnard.
DRIVER OF GETAWAY VAN TESTIFIES
The woman who was identified as Nicole Bewley of Sacramento testified to the events leading up to November 18, 2013.
Bewley said she met Gardner in August of 2013, while in the Sacramento courthouse.
She said Gardner had asked to use her phone. Bewley stated that Gardner texted her later that night and from then they developed a sexual relationship.
Bewley said after about six encounters with Gardner, the next time he contacted her was on November 15, 2013.
She stated, “He left me a message, why didn’t I come see him, why didn’t I make an effort to see him while he was in jail.”
Gardner asked her if she could pick him up. She explained that she picked up Gardner in Sacramento, driving him to the outlets in Vacaville, as he directed her where to drive that day.
“We never got off, he sat in the back seat, seemed preoccupied, we just drove around the parking lot and then left,” stated Bewley. On the way back, Gardner had her drive to a couple different areas, one near Richards Blvd. in Davis, and one down a road near Winters.
She said she was not scared at that point. Before dropping Gardner off that night, he asked her if she could take him to see his lawyer on Monday.
She agreed and around 8:30 am on Monday, Bewley said she picked up Gardner. She said he realized his attorney would be in court so he instructed Bewley to get onto I-80 heading toward San Francisco.
Bewley said Gardner directed her where to go, getting off at the Mondavi Center exit near UCD and then driving to a “mom and pop town.” “I never suspected anything,” stated a weeping Bewley, to DDA Hays.
“I parked in a lot where he told me to park,” she stated.
She said Gardner told her he would be back in a minute and he got off.
She said that, as she waited, “I heard a motorcycle go by, really loud, then heard a backfire, a couple minutes later, heard gunshots, like, a female screaming, then one shot, screaming again, then another shot,” Bewley sobbed
“He came back and said, ok, let’s go, let’s go. I backed up and headed left and it was a dead end, then right and it was too, I felt anxious, I was putting things together,” Bewley sobbed.
As they drove heading toward I-80, she heard Gardner talking on the phone to someone, saying, “I know I haven’t been the best son.”
“He was acting suicidal, different and I felt concerned about my safety,” stated Bewley.
“We drove to a house where he told me to pull the van into the garage. I walked with him to his car and we left, going to another house in the projects,” she said.
He took me upstairs where I waited in a bedroom. He came back and forth. Bewley says, “He tried to have sex with me, but it didn’t work, so we got in the shower, he left me there for a while, and came back with a towel.”
After Gardner finally returned to get her, the two loaded up an Econoline van that was at the house and left.
Bewley said they drove around the Del Paso area and at one point stopped to bury her phone.
She stated, sobbing, “I was instructed to keep my head down, I know what happens when you don’t listen.”
It was after a brief stop on Del Paso that the two returned to his friend Shakqel’s house.
Bewley stated that she had felt a gun on Gardner’s waist as she was massaging him while waiting at the friend’s house.
After a little bit, they left in the big van once again, but at a stop sign, Gardner told her to get out.
She said she ran back toward Shakqel’s house, knocked on the door and went back inside. “I eventually got my van from the garage,” stated Bewley.
She said she left and did not know cops came to question her. “No, I didn’t tell the cops everything, I was afraid I would be next,” she sobbed.
Under cross-examination, Bewley reiterated, “Gardner was on the phone to his dad, grandmother, I think. Not sure but he sounded suicidal, saying there was no end in sight.”
“He never threatened you, never abusive?” asked Toney. “No, not physical,” replied Bewley.
Testimony continues in the morning, as the boyfriend of Leslie Pinkston returns to finish his testimony from Friday.