Leo became the central figure in the death of 31-year-old Zach Kennedy, who disappeared on October 22, 2017, about a decade after moving to Long Beach from his small town in Pennsylvania.
Kennedy was one of the men who attended parties at Leo’s Downtown, where witnesses said methamphetamine and the sedative GHB were freely distributed.
That night Kennedy passed out from a probable overdose and, fearing police attention, Leo left Kennedy to die in his bathtub instead of calling for help, authorities said.
In years of hearings leading up to this week’s trial, Leo’s attorney, Matthew Kaestner, essentially admitted it, but successfully argued it was not a homicide, pointing out that Leo didn’t have the same duty to take care of his guest as a parent. would do it for a child or a doctor for a patient.
Judges have repeatedly dismissed murder and manslaughter charges against Leo, so the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office finds itself prosecuting him for allegedly supplying methamphetamine, supplying GHB and maintaining his house as a place of drug use.
“It’s a place where he used it and made it so he could continually invite people to engage in illegal narcotics use,” Assistant District Attorney Simone Shay told jurors in her statement. preliminary Wednesday morning.
The charges against Leo could land him around six years in prison, as opposed to the 15 life sentence that a murder conviction would bring. He is currently free on $100,000 bond.
Presenting her case, Shay said she planned to present text messages and communications from dating apps to show Leo using drugs, whom he called “party favourites”, to repeatedly attracting men to his home. In her opening speech to jurors, she sought to separate illegal drug use from sexual activity.
“We’re not here to pass judgment on lifestyle,” she said, but explained that private communications, sometimes explicit, will inform her priorities.
For example, when Kennedy appeared to overdose on GHB on October 22, 2017, Leo texted a friend asking for help moving him, saying the last thing he needed was another visit from the police. , who had lectured him and other guests at the party. about drug use about two weeks earlier, when someone falsely reported a crime at his home, prompting officers to arrive and drag naked Leo out of the basement.
This time the police did not arrive. Detectives say Leo instead sent his friend a photo of Kennedy slumped in the tub, face pressed against the china, eyes partially open.
When Shay put the photo on an overhead projector, Kennedy’s father, watching from the audience, turned his head away; when the photo lingered, he walked out, momentarily escaping the courtroom where his son’s drug use and sexual history were analyzed in excruciating detail.
Defense attorney Kaestner repeatedly pointed out Kennedy’s drug use as he began to plead his case to jurors. He called Kennedy a daily meth user, injecting so frequently he could find no veins in his arms – a description the prosecutor repeatedly objected to and the judge ruled off limits.
By contrast, Kaestner said, Leo had a steady job in client development at a white shoe law firm. He owned his well-kept house in Long Beach not to do drugs but because “it was his house, where he lived”.
At the time of Kennedy’s death, Leo “had a very respected position,” but, “As a gay man, he liked to have sex with other gay men and occasionally do drugs,” said Kaestner.
Isn’t it more likely, he asked, that Kennedy provided the drugs he used at Leo?
“What the government is trying to do,” Kaestner said, “is find that person to blame, point that finger in a tragic overdose death.” In that case, Kaestner admitted, it’s tempting to choose Leo for this role.
After Kennedy died and his friends came to pick him up, Leo lied, saying that Kennedy had wandered away from his home. But after a months-long search, detectives dug up his body in Leo’s garden. He had been wrapped in a shower curtain and a bag before being buried in a plastic bathtub. Presumably, to put the body in the container, Kennedy’s feet had been severed at his ankles and wrapped separately.
Kaestner urged the jury not to let the horror of this discovery cloud their judgment. He accused prosecutors of being “long on talking about Zach’s overdose and his burial in Leo’s backyard and very little evidence that Mr. Leo gave Zach the drugs that caused his death.”
But Leo’s callousness in response to Kennedy’s death may be part of the prosecution’s case. Even after hiding a body in his yard, Shay told jurors, Leo was more interested in continuing his drug use than learning from the overdose.
In February 2018, with Kennedy’s body lying underground, Leo messaged another man, offering him crystal meth and GHB if he came for a party.
“What we see,” she said, “is that this defendant has a plan for his house.”
For years, a father demanded justice; now the grim details of her son’s death are a matter of trial