Man Pleads Insanity to Charge of Stabbing in Prison Skirmish Preliminary Hearing

By Allison Hodge


SACRAMENTO, CA – Gregory Leopold entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity following his preliminary hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 10 Thursday. 


Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle presided over witness testimony, and ruled that the defendant should be evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist before proceeding with any jury trial.


Leopold has already been in prison for roughly a year when on May 5, 2019, he was involved in a prison skirmish with another inmate, and faces two counts, including assault on another inmate with a deadly weapon and possession of a weapon. 


Deputy District Attorney Spencer Rajabzadeh called Ted Zerr Jr., a correctional officer employed at California State Prison, Sacramento. 


On the day in question, Officer Zerr testified that he was surveying the prison yard around 9 a.m. when he spotted two men running down the hard track (asphalt) from the “chapel area.”  


The other man reached the flag pole area of the yard and, according to Officer Zerr, tripped and fell face forward on the asphalt. Leopold then caught up, stood over the man, and made three “slashing motions” vertically. 


Zerr stated that at that time he did not see what the defendant had in his hand, but it appeared he made contact with the incarcerated man on the ground.


Officer Zerr then shouted at them to “Get down.” The two complied initially but began to get back up as the officer approached. Zerr yelled again to “Get down,” and they got back down on the ground.


As other officers formed a skirmish line, Zerr said he observed Leopold throwing away a weapon with his right hand, and placed him in restraints. The weapon appeared to be multiple pieces of broken glass wrapped in tape. Leopold was then taken to a holding cell and later brought for medical evaluation.


After the incident, the defendant gave Zerr an unprompted statement in which he claimed, “I was trying to slash him up.”


Public Defender Jeremiah VanEtten then cross-examined the witness, spending the majority of his time clarifying minute details of the incident and the defendant’s behavior. 


Officer Zerr elaborated on the circumstances of the skirmish, stating that approximately 150 incarcerated were in the yard at the time. Upon prompting from Van Etten, Zerr also stated that he did not hear anything being shouted between the two men as they ran, but that he would not have been able to hear anything spoken if it wasn’t shouted.


When questioned about the weapon again, Officer Zerr stated that he remembered Leopold throwing the weapon away with his right hand, but also clarified that he did not put this in his report. There was also no indication of where the weapon came from, or how the defendant managed to get it in the yard after being searched to enter in the first place.


VanEtten then turned to question the witness on the defendant’s statement. Zerr testified that he knew the statement to be a direct quote, as he wrote it down on a note about five minutes after hearing it, included it in his report, and threw the note away after submitting the report.


The defense asked Zerr, “Were you trained…that it’s appropriate to destroy your notes or toss your notes after you write your report during an investigation?”


“I’ve never come across that,” Zerr replied.


VanEtten concluded by inquiring if Zerr heard the other man make any statements about Leopold as they were both medically evaluated in the same ward. 


According to the defense, the other inmate was quoted saying, “The guy (Leopold) said…you have a computer chip in your head. I looked at how he approached me, and he stabbed me two times.”


Officer Zerr did not recall hearing anything but stated that might have been because he was focused on Leopold’s medical evaluation.


Judge Sawtelle ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer and to believe he is guilty for the purposes of a preliminary hearing. 


As the defense chose to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Judge Sawtelle ordered that two doctors be appointed to evaluate Leopold.


The case is set to return on Dec. 10 for a doctor’s report and a potential trial setting if Leopold is deemed competent to stand trial.

About The Author

Allison is a rising senior at UC Davis, majoring in History and Political Science. She is originally from Clovis, CA, and is pursuing a career in civil rights and/or constitutional law.

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