ASHTABULA — In 2015, Leonard M. Bankston beat his long-time girlfriend, Sheila Pyles, and, consequently, spent more than two months in jail.
Two years later, he was behind bars charged with Pyles' murder.
On Thursday, a jury found Bankston, 54, guilty of felony unclassified murder, guilty of felonious assault and guilty of felony domestic violence. It was Bankston’s third domestic violence conviction.
Testimony by police and Bankston's video taped confession played in court on Wednesday, revealed he beat Pyles on Dec. 8, 2017 until she was unconscious after fighting about a possible infidelity. Then he waited two days before calling 911, hoping she would "wake up so they could talk about it," he said.
Many times in the video, Bankston proclaimed his love for Pyles. He blamed the beating incident on a combination of alcohol and jealousy.
“We were drunk and I was slapping her, trying to get her coherent,” Bankston said on the video. “She was tussling with me. I was pushing her by the neck saying, ‘Why would you do that to me? You're lying to me." I hit her again on the chin."
Bankston said that's when his "rage lifted" and he thought, "What am I doing?"
He then apologized to an unresponsive Pyles.
"I kissed her forehead ... I just don't understand where was my head at?" he said. "I'm not a bad person. I'm God fearing ... It's the honest to God truth. I love her to death."
Pyles' sister, Terri Towner, said he certainly did "love her to death."
"He beat her for years," she said. "She tried to get away ... She was only back with him two weeks before he killed her."
County Common Pleas Judge Marianne Sezon will sentence Bankston within the next 45 days. He faces 15 years to life in prison.
Court records show Bankston's previous jail time came after prosecutors charged him with two counts of felonious assault and one count of domestic violence in 2015.
After Bankston completed an in-patient treatment program, in a plea negotiation, Bankston pleaded guilty to domestic violence, a third-degree felony, while the other two charges were dismissed, according to Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court records. He was sentenced to two years of community control under intensive supervision.
He admitted as much in his taped confession.
"I went to counseling, anger management and alcohol rehabilitation four times so I could be with her," he said. "I loved her like something never before. Us being together, fighting against everything and everyone."
And, Pyles took him back.
Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci has said the most frustrating part of the job is dealing with domestic violence cases.
"Many domestic violence victims don't want to proceed with charges; no matter at what point of prosecution," he said. "(In 2015) Sheila Pyles didn't want to see (Bankston) prosecuted. She didn't want him to go to jail. She became an advocate for Bankston."
Prosecutors rely on the victim's testimony, he said.
"(Pyles) did not want to see Bankston incarcerated," he said. "She wanted him to get treatment."
Bankston, who was a veteran, complied and received in-patient treatment through Veterans Services.
Homesafe Director Julie Sundquist said Pyles' actions were pretty normal.
"On average, it takes a victim seven times before someone will actually leave their abuser," she said. "A lot of times they do go back whether fear of repercussions or they're being controlled to such an extent that they don't really have their own life. It's a very big struggle for empowerment."
Friends and family can support the victim by listening to them and letting them know there's a domestic violence shelter, counseling and support groups available in their community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 25 percent of women experience at least one physical assault during adulthood by a partner.
Pyles' son, Jesse Brazier III, said domestic violence is a very serious subject.
"Domestic violence is not just in Ashtabula," he said. "The problem is not one that will go away."