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Well-known Midlands restaurateur Greg Leon dead after of apparent suicide; another viewpoint

Lexington, SC 07/15/2023 (Paul Kirby) – Famed Midlands area restaurateur Greg Leon has died at a local hospital after being found unresponsive and hanging in his cell Friday shortly after noon. Leon was at the Kirkland Reception & Evaluation Center after being convicted of his wife’s lover’s murder about a week ago. The murder he was convicted of occurred on Valentine night, February 14, 2016.

Leon was being checked on regularly prior to his body being found at Kirkland. He did have a cellmate, but that individual was apparently out in another portion of the prison when Leon died. The SC Department of Corrections (SCDC) says the checks are part of their normal operating procedures while new inmates are checked prior to determining the proper placement in their sprawling, statewide system. The SCDC has asked the SC State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate Leon’s death. SLED reminded the media over the weekend that they do not comment on ongoing investigations.

Leon is best known as the owner of the San Jose’s restaurants across the Midlands. According to other reports, he had a total of 9 locations in several different counties. Although he was convicted of killing a man he caught nude in the back seat of the victim’s truck with Leon’s long-term wife at the Park and Ride off Riverchase Way in Lexington approximately 1 week ago, many who knew him best say that this one instance of fatal jealousy does not fully paint a picture of who Leon really was. His employees, many who have been with him more than 2 decades, his family, and friends say he was fiercely loyal, a loving father, a philanthropist, and much more. His own attorney described him as a deeply religious man and close personal friend. He was an advocate for immigration reform and had said for years that the United States needed immigrants to be able to legally immigrate to the US to do jobs that many Americans appear no longer interested in or willing to do. In many cases, these immigrants work in businesses that provide the food and meals we enjoy at home or when out. These jobs are often in agriculture and food prep at restaurants that provide many different cuisines, not just Mexican restaurants. This would give the immigrants an opportunity for them to have a better life for themselves and their families and if they were not here in the US and willing do these types of jobs, crops would rot in the fields and kitchens would be emptied of workers that include all aspects of that industry. This includes everyone from dishwashers and bussers to executive chefs, according to a conversation Leon had with a friend several years ago.

Although no large news outlets in the Midlands have reported receiving any press release from Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford regarding the full details of the death of Greg Leon in his cell at Kirkland Reception & Evaluation Center Friday night, the information being reported from the SCDC is certainly cause for some confusion. An official with the SCDC, has told WIS, WACH, WLTX, and several other major news outlets that Leon was found hanging in his cell around 12:30 p.m. or at 30 minutes past noon, on Friday, July 14th. WACH and other stations are also reporting that Leon was transferred to a local hospital where he died right before midnight. Leon’s friend and attorney Eric Bland later posted on his Twitter feed that Leon died at 11:56 p.m., again about 12 hours after the SCDC says he was found hanging in his cell.

Herein lies some of the confusion regarding the timeline surrounding Leon’s death. The staff of The Lexington Ledger first receive reports of Leon’s death from a state official and friend that asked not to be identified at 7:44 p.m. He mistakenly said Leon was in the Lexington County Detention Center when he died. He called back at 8:01 p.m. to correct his mistake. Prior to his second call, two separate Lexington County Sheriff’s Department officials also called and texted The Ledger just before 8:00 p.m. to point out that Leon was at the SCDC facility and not in Lexington. These calls were almost 8 hours after the SCDC officials said Leon was found hanging in his cell and approximately 4 hours before other news stories and his attorney reported he died.

At 8:45 p.m., the staff of The Lexington Ledger received another call from a friend who was also a close to Leon’s family. That individual confirmed that Leon’s family had received the news of his death earlier in the day and they were devastated by his loss. Again, more than 8 hours from when the SCDC say he was found but more than 3 hours before officials are saying he died.

The official report of the details surrounding Leon’s death should come out once Richland County Coroner’s Rutherford’s report is completed and received. Only she will be able to set the official cause of death as suicide although SCDC officials have said he was hanging by the neck in his cell when he was found.

The most plausible explanation of the large gap in time from when he was found in the cell until he was pronounced dead would be that lifesaving efforts were started at the prison, and then he was then loaded by Richland County EMS and transferred to the hospital. He then could have been kept on life support there until family and loved ones gathered to say goodbye. Once this had happened, the family could then decide to discontinue life support which apparently happened just before midnight. That would explain the wide gap in the time that the SCDC says he was found and when The Ledger received the calls that said he was dead between 7:45 and 8:45 p.m.

The fact that Leon’s family and close friends wanted the opportunity to gather at the hospital to say their personal goodbyes also fits the patterns of Leon as a beloved patriarch of his family and a true friend and inspiration to thousands who knew him and loved him. Although it’s easy for many to say he was a cold blooded murder who took an innocent man’s life in a fit of rage, it’s hard for any of us to say what we would have done had we been in his shoes that cold February night.


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