Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento County prosecutor says Arden Way killing was racially motivated

Joseph Paul Leonard Jr. did not hesitate to lay blame the day he ran over and killed a black man on Arden Way.

“Just because we got Obama for a president, these people think they are real special,” Leonard said, while sitting in the back of a sheriff’s patrol car after his arrest for his vehicular assault on Toussaint Harrison, 34.

The videotape of him in the patrol car was played in Sacramento Superior Court on Thursday. Other evidence at Leonard’s racially motivated hate-murder trial that got underway this week showed that he burned 23 feet of rubber before he smashed his 1997 green Chevy S-10 into Harrison.

With Harrison lying bleeding and broken on the pavement, Leonard got out of his truck – and kicked him several times in the head with his steel-toed work boots, witnesses said. Two days after the June 6, 2013, assault, Harrison died of his injuries at UC Davis Medical Center.

Leonard, who is now 62, also faces attempted murder charges, prosecutors say, for also trying to run over Toussaint’s friend Justin Oliphant. The second count also contains the same allegation that Leonard launched the attack “because of the victim’s status and perceived ethnicity.”

The trial is the second racially motivated murder case to hit the dockets this year in the Sacramento County courthouse. In March, a jury convicted Brian Keith Jones Jr. of first-degree murder in the Dec. 8, 2012, shooting death of Duane Lomax, an African American, during a traffic dispute in Foothill Farms. Jones received a sentence of 58 years to life in prison.

According to evidence in the Leonard trial, the events leading up to the killing began a little after 6 o’clock in the morning when he and a friend, Samantha Silva, rolled into the McDonald’s on Arden Way at Howe Avenue.

Prosecutors say Harrison and Oliphant showed up in the parking lot of the fast-food eatery shortly afterward, “offering food to homeless people that they had obtained from a nearby hotel,” according to the trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday.

Defense attorney Danny Brace suggested in his questioning of witnesses that Harrison and Oliphant actually were panhandling and that they had stolen the food they were distributing from the morning breakfast offering for guests-only at a nearby Quality Inn.

Silva came out of the McDonald’s first and was approached by the two men. She told sheriff’s investigators that one of the two men “asked if she was hungry,” according to one deputy’s testimony. Oliphant testified at Leonard’s preliminary hearing in May that he also may have asked her for a cigarette. While he and Harrison were talking to her, Leonard emerged from the McDonald’s, “and she described that he went crazy and lost his temper,” sheriff’s Detective Pamela Linke testified at the hearing.

Linke said Silva told investigators that Leonard retrieved a chain from the back of his truck and “he was swinging it, trying to hit the boys.”

A videotape from the McDonald’s shows Harrison and Oliphant backing off while Leonard appears to be swinging the chain over his head, lasso style. He got back in his truck and drove out of view before he re-emerged in the picture, with the chain more clearly visible in his hand. He proceeded to stomp on a bicycle that had been ridden by Harrison.

Oliphant told detectives that Leonard used a racial epithet during his confrontation with the two black men.

During the fight, one of the two men threw a knife at Leonard and another threw another sharp object at him, possibly a broken bottle, the evidence showed. Pictures of Leonard taken after he was booked showed he suffered an abrasion to his midsection and a lacerated cheek that sent blood trickling down his face and onto his shirt.

A toxicology test on Harrison showed he had methamphetamine in his system. Investigators found a crank pipe in his backpack as well as shards of broken glass.

Harrison and Oliphant took off westbound on foot after the McDonald’s fight, and headed through the parking lots on the north side of Arden. Leonard, authorities said, gave chase in his truck before he tried to run over Oliphant and succeeded in ramming into Harrison in front of the Clutch Mart automotive repair shop a few businesses away from the McDonald’s.

The videotape also included Leonard’s version of events.

“This could have happened to your son if you had one out there,” Leonard told the deputy in the car. “This got too outta hand for me, man.”

Leonard, who is a mechanic by trade, said “I was in fear for my life. You see what they did to me? You make sure you include that in the report. ... I beat them off me. ... They cut me.”

At one point Leonard said, “Maybe I’m wrong.”

“I mean it was pretty bad,” he said. “If those punks wanted bad, they got bad.” He said “I became the aggressor.”

Leonard continued, “You know, I think people are getting tired of being abused by the situation, the way people are being. I myself am tired of it. I am victimized every time I turn around.”

Brace, the defense lawyer, said in court Thursday that Leonard will testify in his own behalf when the trial resumes Nov. 17. Brace told the jury in his opening statement that Leonard contends he was trying to apprehend Harrison and Oliphant before he wound up killing the one man.

In telling the court of Leonard’s intention to testify, Brace said that Leonard has had past run-ins with people “where he was seriously injured and nobody was prosecuted.”

Holliday, the deputy DA, countered that Leonard’s past also includes instances of violence where he was the aggressor. Brace asked the judge to exclude Holliday from being able to cross-examine Leonard about prior incidents elsewhere in the state that resulted in criminal charges. White said he will rule on the motion when the trial resumes.

Leonard has no record in Sacramento County, according to Superior Court online records.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee