Midlands restaurant operator Greg Leon dies one week after murder conviction
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A little more than a week after being convicted of murdering his wife’s lover, Greg Leon, a prominent Midlands restaurant operator, died Friday night at a local hospital.
Leon was found hanging in his cell at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia around 12:30 p.m., according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
Authorities say he was transported to Prisma Health where he later died just before midnight.
His death is being investigated as a suspected suicide, a Department of Corrections spokesperson said.
Leon was a Department of Corrections inmate serving out the first week of a 30-year prison sentence.
On July 6, a Lexington County jury found him guilty of murdering 28-year-old Arturo Bravo Santos on Valentine’s Day in 2016, after discovering Santos and his wife in the back seat of a truck.
Longtime friend and attorney Eric Bland described what it was like in the hospital room as dozens of friends and family said goodbye to Leon.
“Almost ... every single one of Greg’s employees came to the hospital to express their grief and support the family. Grown men who have worked for Greg for 25 years were on the floor, crying like babies,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have never seen such outpouring of love for one person.”
Life keeps delivering blows. My good friend and friend to so many Greg Leon passed away at 11:56 last night. I am really hurting. He left a legacy for sure. 2023 has not been a great year for me so far. Maybe even years are better. Greg lived a full life. He was super religious.… pic.twitter.com/Pvwh9xUP4x— Eric Bland (@TheEricBland) July 15, 2023
A Department of Corrections spokesperson said Leon had a cellmate but was alone around midday on Friday as the other inmate was “performing tasks in the living unit.”
Security checks of inmates are performed every 40 minutes, the Department of Corrections said.
According to a timeline provided by the Department of Corrections, a security check began at approximately 12:15 p.m. and lunch delivery was complete at 12:20 p.m.
The security check was complete at 12:35 p.m., and Leon was found unresponsive in his cell at 12:36 p.m., which means he may have gone undiscovered for a few moments or up to 20 minutes.
A Department of Corrections spokesperson said that Leon had undergone a mental health evaluation.
“There were no indications that he needed to be placed on suicide watch or needed a higher level of scrutiny,” the document shared by the Department of Corrections said.
Leon, 56, came to the United States from Mexico decades ago, built several successful San Jose restaurant businesses, and took Santos’ life.
He had just met with Bland on Thursday.
In an interview on Saturday, Bland said Leon was “unnerved.”
Bland said he did not expect that his friend would live out 30 years in prison, citing his age and diabetes.
“But certainly never, ever did I envision that a day later after we had talked about future plans and future things for the businesses, that he would do this,” he said.
During Leon’s murder trial earlier this month, his defense team had asserted that Leon was acting in self-defense, and feared for his life as he suspected Santos was reaching for something in the Toyota Tundra truck where Leon found Santos and his wife Rachel.
Leon maintained he shot in defense when he took the stand during the trial.
A jury disagreed, taking two and a half hours to convict Leon.
Jack Swerling, who represented Leon during the trial, said in a statement:
Prior to his sentencing in July, several people addressed the court in support of Leon, including his sister, two of his sons, and Bland.
His son Alex called him “the best dad you could ever ask for.”
Bland called Leon the hardest-working businessman he has ever met in his entire career.
“You judge a person by his deeds, you judge a person by his actions, and again, I’m not discounting that he was convicted of murder and I’m not taking umbrage with the jury’s decision, but this is a guy that lived a very righteous life in many aspects of his life,” Bland said in an interview. “He was extremely religious, extremely charitable, not just to people in the Mexican and Hispanic community, but all communities in the Midlands area.”
Leon is survived by his seven children, many of whom appeared in court to support their father every day of the trial.
Leon’s death is being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Richland County Coroner’s Office, and the Department of Corrections Inspector General, which is standard protocol.
SLED released this statement about the investigation:
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