JEFFERSON — A jury took less than two hours to return a guilty verdict against Leonard M. Bankston, who faced murder charges in the 2017 beating death of his girlfriend, 54-year-old Sheila Pyles.
Bankston, 54, was found not guilty of the first count of felony unclassified murder with intent, but guilty of a second count of felony unclassified murder, guilty of felonious assault and guilty of felony domestic violence. This was Bankston's third domestic violence conviction.
He remained visibly unfazed by the verdict.
Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Marianne Sezon will sentence Bankston within the next 45 days, pending a pre-sentence investigation. Bankston is facing 15 years to life in prison.
When the first count of murder came back "not guilty," a gasp rose in the courtroom. The atmosphere changed when the jury found Bankston guilty on the second count of murder and subsequent charges.
"The first count meant he intentionally caused her death and the second count (of murder) was based on him committing felonious assault," Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said, noting he was satisfied with the verdicts.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Cecilia Cooper said she understands how the jury came to that decision.
The verdict ends a seven-day trial that revealed a rocky relationship filled with domestic violence and testimony that ended with the jury watching a video taped confession in which Bankston proclaimed, "I love her to death."
Pyles family embraced and cried when the guilty verdicts were read. Afterwards, her sister, Terri Towner, said Bankston beat Pyles for years. Pyles had false teeth because he knocked her teeth out during a fight, she said.
The couple recently broke up after he broke her foot with a baseball bat but she went back to him. She was wearing a walking boot when she died.
"She tried to get away; he threatened my parents," Towner said. "She was only back with him for two weeks before he killed her. He's a monster."
Pyles' brother, Steven Pyles, said Bankston put himself in jail.
"He beat her and he tried to clean it up. He lied about my sister and made up stories to try to get out of it," he said. "I love my sister, I miss my sister. You can't do things to people like that and not have justice."
Pyles was found severely beaten and unconscious in their West 49th Street home on Dec. 10, 2017. She died the next morning at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
Bankston told paramedics she overdosed on drugs. He told police Pyles was out with two men and came home like that. Prosecutors believe Bankston and Pyles got into a fight on Dec. 8, 2017 over her possible infidelity. He punched her in the head until she was semi-unconscious and then waited two days before calling for help.
In his video taped confession to Ashtabula police, Bankston blamed alcohol and jealousy.
“I caused it. I caused it. I caused it. I caused it by being jealous. I caused it because I love her more than anything,” he said. "I loved her. I still love her. She was my everything."
He described kissing her face and apologizing over and over again as Pyles lay unresponsive on the bed.
Towner warned other women in domestic violence situations — "If they hit you one time, get away."
Pyyles' son, Jesse Brazier III, said he wanted to thank everyone who supported the family for the past two years.
"Domestic violence is a very serious subject," he said. "It should not be taken lightly."
He also reached out to Bankston's family because "I know they are affected by this."
Pyles' mother, Rosetta Pyles, cried through much of the trial and cried afterwards; but this time, it was tears of relief and thankfulness for justice served.
"I want to thank the jury," she said. "Thank you so much."