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Published: 11/20/2005

Toledoan once jailed for murder found shot to death in parked car

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mary Leal, mother of Gilbert Leal, of North Toledo mourns her son and asks the community to help solve his slaying. Mary Leal, mother of Gilbert Leal, of North Toledo mourns her son and asks the community to help solve his slaying.
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A Toledo man was found shot to death yesterday in a car parked on a South Toledo street.

The victim, Gilbert Leal, 50, was convicted of a 1978 murder and his sentence was commuted after he'd served 14 years in prison.

The body of Leal, of 1915 Wright Ave. was found about 7:45 a.m. slumped over in the front seat of the car parked in the 500 block of Daniel Street, about 1 1/2 miles from his home.

The body was discovered by a city street crew as it was vacuuming leaves along the curb.

The driver's side window was shattered. Leal had multiple gunshot wounds to his head and other parts of his body. He was not robbed, Detective Bill Seymour said.

It was not immediately clear how many times Leal was shot. Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, ordered an autopsy.

Detective Seymour said no motive has been established for the killing and no suspect was in custody.

Leal's life was one of contrasts.

He was a loving husband and devoted father who at one time seemed to be fulfilling his promise made 13 years ago this month when then Gov. George Voinovich commuted his life sentence for the 1978 murder in North Toledo.

Leal was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery for the August, 1978, murder of John Skelly, 30, during a robbery at the former Broadside Nightclub on Mulberry Street.

While in prison, Leal obtained an associate's degree.

After his release, he worked as a paralegal for a law firm and spoke out against gang violence. However, Leal violated his parole and ended up back in prison.

But yesterday all of that was in the past as family members began to come to grips with his death.

"My pain is so deep. It doesn't know any end," Leal's mother, Mary Leal, said yesterday afternoon while surrounded by relatives inside a family member's house in North Toledo.

She made a plea to the community for help in solving her son's slaying.

His daughter, Bianca Leal, 28, politely asked a pair of reporters and photographers covering her father's death to "Please call him Gilberto. He said he liked it with the 'o' on the end."

She said he remarried about a year ago.

His new wife - who, like his mother, also is named Mary - was not present during the interview.

Family members said she called some of them about 10:30 or 11 p.m. Friday concerned that Leal had not come home.

Unlike his younger street-wise days, Leal had settled down considerably, relatives said. He no longer was one to stay out late, they said.

"He was good to everybody," his mother said.

Leal's daughter said he was taking classes at the University of Toledo and was employed as an interpreter for a company on Reynolds Road.

His murder-robbery sentence was commuted in November, 1992, by Mr. Voinovich, a Republican from Cleveland who now is one of Ohio's two U.S. senators.

Courts ruled on three occasions that Leal did not receive a fair trial.

Two people involved in the robbery ultimately stated that Leal was not with them.

The campaign to release Leal included candlelight vigils in Toledo and Columbus as well as letters to the governor.

One of the campaign's leaders was a former wife, Lee Leal. She struck up a friendship with Leal and married him while he was in prison.

Maria Armstrong, a former gubernatorial assistant deputy legal counsel, said in a 1992 article that Mr. Voinovich was impressed by the "really strong family and community support" for Leal, while contemplating whether to commute his life sentence.

Shortly after his release, Leal began working as a paralegal at the nonprofit Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc.

His duties with the organization included helping migrant farm workers in Bowling Green and Fremont.

He was sent back to prison in 1994 for violating conditions of his parole, including accusations that he assaulted a man, pulled a gun on another man, and tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.

Detective Seymour said yesterday that Leal has had various run-ins with law enforcement in recent years - all misdemeanors. He declined to be more specific.

At a dinner that friends and relatives hosted in Leal's honor in January, 1993, to help celebrate his Nov. 16, 1992, release from prison for the murder and robbery he contended he didn't commit, Leal said, "I will not waste my life."

Leal told those in attendance that he felt like Humpty Dumpty. He said their unwavering support for him "put me together again."

Now "he's gone, but he'll always be in our hearts," Leal's mother said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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