JEFFERSON — Some things an Ashtabula man has done are inexcusable, but that doesn’t mean he killed his girlfriend, his attorney said Tuesday, during opening statements of his murder trial.
Leonard M. Bankston, 54, is charged with murder, felonious assault and domestic violence in connection with the death of Sheila M. Pyles, who was found severely beaten and unconscious in their West 49th Street home on Dec. 10, 2017.
If convicted on all counts, Bankston faces 15 years to life in prison, Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said.
“Mr. Bankston is not a perfect person,” said his defense attorney Michael Ciccone. “He admits he used drugs and if there are inconsistencies in the transcripts, well, he’s not a perfect person. And, yes, some things he did were inexcuseable, but that doesn’t make him a murderer.”
Ciccone told the jury Bankston loved Pyles and the prosecution’s case consists of circumstantial evidence.
He asked the jury to keep an open mind.
The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office ruled Pyles’ death a homicide and she died from blunt force injuries, mostly to the head. Pyles also suffered multiple fractures and brain injuries.
She only had a small amount of cocaine in her system, according to the coroner’s report.
Ciccone insisted Bankston cooperated with police “in order to help them” and he wanted to take Pyles to the hospital, but she refused.
Ciccone also said prosecutors can not prove Bankston caused Pyles’ injuries.
According to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Cecelia Cooper’s opening statement, the evidence will show Bankston and Pyles argued about her being with other men on Dec. 8, 2017 and that Bankston attacked her at their home, held her down by her neck and punched her in the face numerous times until she was semi-unconscious.
She said detectives found blood on the walls and curtains and a clump of her hair on the floor.
Cooper said Bankston did not call 911 until the afternoon of Dec. 10, 2017, when paramedics found Pyles alive, but unresponsive and lying partially naked in a puddle of her own urine.
“He told police he thought she overdosed on drugs,” Cooper said.
Ashtabula firefighter/paramedic Nicholas Moon said the call came in at about 1:45 p.m. for an “ill female,” so he was shocked when he got a good look at Pyles’ injuries.
“I rolled her over to assess her condition and I saw heavy trauma to her face,” he said. “I told my partner to call the police department.”
Ashtabula Fire Lt. John Paul, who was with Moon, testified Pyles’ eyes were swollen shut and she was not breathing regularly.
“It was clear she had been beaten,” he said. “Her entire head seemed to be swollen.”
Moon said the condition of her pupils showed severe brain trauma.
Prosecutors showed the jury police photographs of Pyles’ swollen and bruised face.
In the back of the courtroom, members of Pyles’ family looked away, wiping tears from their eyes.
Police testified Pyles was rushed by ambulance to Ashtabula County Medical Center, where medical personnel tried to stabilize her condition.
She was then flown by medical helicopter to Cleveland MetroHealth Medical Center, where she died the next morning.
Two paramedics and three police officers testified Bankston’s story of what happened to Pyles was inconsistent, but always included an argument about her being with other men.
At first Bankston said she “turned a trick” and returned in that condition.
Then he said they were out partying and celebrating her birthday at two local bars.
Afterwards, he went into a westside home to buy marijuana and while he was inside some men beat her up, the officers testified.
“I thought it sounded like a lie,” said APD Officer Christopher DeFina. “I went to the ambulance to get a closer look ... She was unrecognizable.”
During cross-examination, Ciccone suggested Bankston’s inconsistent story could be due to the “traumatic event” of his girlfriend being beat up by some unknown men.
Ashtabula Police Patrolman Don Martin Jr. said Pyles looked like “she had been through a boxing match ... and her hair was missing in spots.”
He handcuffed Bankston and took him to the police station for further questioning. On the way to the station, Bankston told Martin he was “just trying to help her out” and he was afraid the police were going to “pin this on me.”
Upon cross-examination, Ciccone asked Martin whether he had ever seen injuries such as Pyles’ injuries in an overdose victim.
“Not their eyes blackened and a nose that appeared to be flattened against their face,” he said. “I’ve never seen this type of injury with an overdose.”