Leon’s Story

Leon Torres, innocent man in prison for life.

Leon Torres before being falsely accused and convicted for murder, 1984.

The year was 1985. I was a purchasing agent at a large swimming pool construction company in Tampa, FL. I was making good money, so my live-in girl friend, Pauline Louise Lehman, (hereafter referred to as “Pauline”) did not have to work. I was 21 years old, with a normal life, school, family, friends and work.

A short time after Pauline moved in with me, her younger brother, John Scott Lehman (hereafter referred to as “Lehman,”) moved to the Tampa Bay area where he stayed with his older brother.

Since Pauline wasn’t working, her younger brother, Lehman, would often stop by to see Pauline on his way to work washing dishes at a restaurant, “The Matterhorn Hofbrau House.”

On August 31st, 1985, Hurricane Elena was threatening the west coast of Florida, so I went home for lunch early, and Lehman was there. He asked if I would want to go shooting when I got off work if the weather was clear. I agreed (I owned a few legal firearms.) I told Lehman that I didn’t have any ammo for my nine millimeter, so Pauline, Lehman and I went out to lunch, and then to a gun store to purchase nine millimeter ammo.

After returning Pauline, Lehman, and the ammo to the house I went back to work. As Pauline was busy with house work, Lehman quickly and quietly removed the weapon and the ammo from its case, and placed it outside where he could easily retrieve it on his way to work at the restaurant. He gave it to a man he had recently met near his employment, named William Moore, a.k.a. “Wild Bill,” (hereafter referred to as “Moore.”). Moore told Lehman that he wanted to rob the Matterhorn restaurant, but didn’t have a gun. Lehman said he could get my gun, and return it without me ever knowing it was missing. Moore planned to rob the Matterhorn restaurant that same night.  See Exhibit A

Around midnight of August 31st, 1985, Moore entered the restaurant, brandishing the weapon. According to witnesses’ testimony, Moore ordered all customers and employees to an area somewhere inside the restaurant. He demanded the money from an employee. With the money in hand, he attempted to leave, but encountered the owner of the restaurant, Mr. Johannes Frischknecht, who was armed with a shotgun and pistol himself.

Moore and Mr. Frischknecht were approximately 20 to 30 feet apart. Mr. Frischknecht fired once from his shotgun and three shots from his pistol. Moore fired two shots from my gun. Mr. Frischknecht was hit with two bullets and died a short time later. See Exhibit B

Moore exited the restaurant, and dropped my gun off at a pre-arranged spot so that Lehman could retrieve it and return it to my house the next day. In his “witness statement” to the police, Lehman said he was a victim in the restaurant, just like everyone else.

Leon Torres after 28 years in prison.

Leon Torres after 28 years in prison.

Because of the shooting, Lehman took the weapon to his apartment, and then rode his bicycle to my house. He banged on the door until I awoke. I answered the door, and Lehman, soaked from the rain, told me that I must come to his apartment to retrieve my gun. I asked him what he was talking about. He got on his bike, rode away through the dark and rain, shouting over his shoulder that someone had been shot.

Pauline assured me that she did not know Lehman had taken my weapon, and we drove to his apartment. It was then 4:30 or 5:00 AM, when it finally sunk in, and Pauline and I returned home with my gun in total unexpected disbelief.

I should have called the police, but because Pauline and I were thinking about getting married, I felt it wouldn’t be a wise family move to help send my future brother-in-law to prison for robbery/murder. I also rationalized that I personally did nothing wrong, so I decided to sell my gun in a legal sale, and let the police deal with the crime. That was the biggest mistake of my life. Never would I have imagined I would be sentenced to life!

Lehman was arrested that same morning, charged with armed robbery and first degree murder. (Lehman had told a co-worker that the place was going to get robbed, and it was the coworker who informed the police.)

Lehman was a seventeen year old kid who was being interrogated by two veteran homicide detectives, Det. Rick Childers, and Det. Danny Bird, (the same two detectives who would later arrest me and push for my conviction.) Det. Danny Bird later married the widow of the murder victim in this case. See Exhibit C

Lehman immediately confessed that Moore did the robbery and murder at the Matterhorn restaurant, and gave a detailed description of Moore and of his car. (Meanwhile, Moore sunk his car in a lake and stole a motorcycle for his get-away.) Lehman also explained that he and Moore were to meet that night to split the restaurant’s money. The only thing Lehman left out was the fact that it was my weapon which was used. He told his sister, Pauline and me that he didn’t want to cause us any more grief.

The police could not locate William Moore. They returned to again speak with Lehman and told him they believed he was lying about Moore. They then accused Lehman of covering for a friend of his, James Stewart, (hereafter referred to as “Stewart”). Lehman insisted it was Moore. Detectives Childers and Bird told Lehman that if he didn’t admit it was his friend Stewart, they would insure Lehman received the electric chair. So the seventeen year old Lehman, in fear of his life, complied with their demands.

Stewart was then arrested in Ohio, brought to Florida, and held four months in jail,

charged with armed robbery and murder. Stewart was able to prove his innocence and was released. He then successfully filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Tampa. See Exhibit D

The detectives returned to Lehman and demanded another name. Lehman pointed out that the detectives didn’t believe him about Moore, and then Stewart, so he thought the detectives may believe the owner of the gun that was used, Leon A. Torres, (me) could have been the guilty one. Lehman said he was only doing what the detectives and Judge Harry Lee Coe wanted him to do, to keep giving them names.

So on January 31st, 1986, five months after the crime was committed, I was arrested and charged. Pauline was informed that if she didn’t at least agree with her brother’s story in court, she would be charged with accessory to robbery and murder. The third person to be arrested for this crime, I was taken to the interrogation room at the Tampa Police Department. I was being interrogated by the same detectives, Childers and Bird for three continuous hours, the handcuff very tight the whole time. Bird wore a large heavy ring, and each time I refused to confess, he would walk behind me and strike the back of my head. I NEVER confessed to this crime.

Four or five cassette tapes were used to record the interrogation. At trial, however, the prosecutor had one cassette tape with fifteen to twenty five minutes of recording, most of which had been altered to make me look guilty.

In 1987, I was convicted of armed robbery and first degree murder. I was sentenced to two life terms to run consecutive to each term. This case was prosecuted by Joe Episcopo. Return to Exhibit B

In 1989, the Florida Supreme Court vacated my conviction and ordered a new trial. In my retrial of 1990, the state again called Pauline to testify against me. However, this time, she refused to give false testimony, and told the truth about that night in August of 1985. She said she lied at the first trial because she had been threatened with charges.

Nevertheless, once again the same detectives were still threatening Lehman with many years in prison if he did not testify against me, and the jury believed him instead of Pauline. I was again convicted of armed robbery and murder. This case was prosecuted by Cass Castilo. See Exhibit E

The nightmare of injustice continued. Because Pauline told the truth in my retrial, the state attorney charged her with perjury – she threw herself upon the mercy of the court, and the state used her own brother’s false testimony against her. She was sentenced to five years in prison. She served five months, then probation. See Exhibit F

On May 9, 1996, John Scott Lehman filed an Affidavit with the Court stating the truth about his testimony – that he lied in both trials, and that the true killer was Moore. He could not bear to live with the thought that an innocent man would spend life in prison because of a crime he and Moore committed. Return to Exhibit A

Lehman went on to have a lengthy criminal history.  The facts which are documented on court records show he has a clear history of mental illness/insanity.   In the early 1990’s, he was declared to be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” on one or more counts of battery on a law enforcement officer, and various other charges.  This was a full jury trial. This not guilty verdict came five to seven years after he testified against me in 1986, a testimony which took my freedom from me for life.

Approximately December 24, 2009, William Moore confessed to the crime, giving all the details, by writing a letter to President Obama: It was sent to Leon’s public defender and to the Florida State Attorney’s Office by a director of The U.S. Department of Justice, summarizing the confession as follows:

Enclosed please find a photocopy of a letter wherein the writer proclaims he is the killer of a restaurateur. The writer identifies himself only as an alias he used at the time, William Moore “a/k/a” Wild Bill.”

He expresses remorse for an innocent man serving a prison sentence for a crime the man did not commit, and states writing a letter to President Obama is “all I can think to do” as he cannot turn himself in because he “must be here or my family.” See Exhibit G

It boils down to this: In the first trial, the detectives (Bird and Childers) coerced both witnesses with threats of draconian legal punishment. In the second trial, the same detectives coerced Lehman into giving false testimony. In their eagerness to get a conviction, they arrested another man, Stewart, (before Leon’s arrest) who was able to prove his innocence in four months, after which he successfully sued the city of Tampa.)

The real killer confessed in 2009 in a letter sent to the U.S. Justice Department;

The chief witness against Leon in both trials recanted in the second trial.

The 2009 confession of the real killer states the same facts as the 1996 affidavit of Lehman.

Joe Episcopo, who prosecuted Leon in the first trial, was fired a year or so after his conviction. He was accused of “tampering with evidence, manipulating witnesses’ testimony, and improper use of states funds.”

The Miranda Form read to Leon in 1985 had been held to be unconstitutional in 1984, in Thompson v. State, 595 2d 16 (Fla 1992), because the form failed to inform the accused that the cost of a lawyer will be borne by the state if the accused is unable to hire a lawyer.

As of January 2016, I have been in prison for 30 years, during which time I lost two brothers to death.

All statements here are true and correct, and backed by court records, police documents and news clippings.

Just a Note: If I had actually committed this crime, why did John Scott Lehman need to return my weapon to me after the crime was committed?