Hispanic girlfriend clings to hope for imprisoned African American boyfriend
It was a wonderful time for a night out for 19-year old Hispanic Lilia Flores and her 22-year old African American boyfriend Leonar Russell on Sept. 15 2007 when they decided to go out for a pizza at the Pizza Hut on Redondo Ave. in Long Beach.
Eight months pregnant with her first child by Russell, Flores did not particularly care for pizza and as far as she knew, Russell seldom displayed an appetite for it either.
Nonetheless they found themselves at the eatery on this fateful evening that would ultimately change their lives forever.
At approximately 9 p.m, Flores remembers Russell ordering the pizza and joking with one of the counter clerks. As he turned around, a male Hispanic was walking outside the location and happened to be glancing in.
The two men exchanged non-verbal gestures, but apparently the passerby took offense to the joking gesture from Russell and returned to the eatery with a half dozen of his associates.
A half hour later, Flores was shoved into a moving vehicle and Russell was beaten and kicked in his face by the assailants. Subsequently Flores says that she called 911 and while no aid arrived was taken to the hospital by another relative where she remained until awakened at 2:30 am by Long Beach police detectives.
“The detectives were asking me what happen and telling me that Lenoar came back with some of his friends and some of the men who jumped him and pushed me were shot,” Flores told the Sentinel this week.
Flores alleges that the men only jumped Leonar because he was Black and says that it wasn’t the first time that Hispanics had approached her because of the color of the man she was dating.
Her story is one that is unique to the ongoing feud between Hispanics and African Americans that has divided communities from Los Angeles to Long Beach and has also divided the opinions of citizens in these communities and the law enforcement that is paid to serve them.
Flores has been dating Russell for five years and had plans of marriage and a happy life together, but now those plans are on hold for the time being and perhaps well beyond.
After the alleged altercation between Russell and his assailants, police believe that Russell called on a friend for help and it is alleged that the friend is the individual who came to his aid wielding a gun.
Two men were shot according to the evidence that was presented in court and although the injuries to the victims was not life threatening—one suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and one sustained a gunshot wound to the ankle.
Russell was the only one arrested. He was charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and was recently sentenced to life in prison in Long Beach Superior Courtroom last week. He has refused to identify his associate who actually shot the gun.
Russell’s mother, 44-year old Stacey Wheeler and 64-year old grandmother Annginette Wheeler are pleading with the public for support that the verdict could somehow be overturned.
“He did not shoot the gun and said that when he heard the shots he ran,” pleaded his grandmother.
His mother and young teenage girlfriend are equally stunned by the verdict and the ineptness of the public defender that represented Russell.
When reached on May 19, attorney Theodore J. Batskis confirmed that there was no weapon recovered, but said that he could not talk about the trial that lasted just three days because he would need his client permission.
Russell had been previously arrested for armed robbery and served 16 months in prison, but his family also disputed that conviction to no avail.
However they suggest that this time it’s different and Russell should not be spending the rest of his life in prison because he did not shoot anyone.
Asked whom she was angry at and his mother Stacey replied, “I’m mad at the situation and how it went down.”
The grandmother added, “I’m not mad at anyone and I am praying for everyone, but I am mad that Batsakis and the prosecutor who called him names such as a idiot during the trial.”
Asked what she would do if she had a chance to do it over again and Flores snapped: “I didn’t want pizza that night and our intentions were so good. We were going to eat and watch movies.”
Friends wrote letters to the judge with hopes that the mandatory sentence would not be Russell’s fate.
Elizabeth Haywood who is ill and suffering from lupus wrote of how Russell was there for her and her family and walking her daughter Shawndra to and from school.
Relatives say that Russell had acquired a job with Pepsi and purchased a car for he and his fiancé to get around in.
The child has since been born and now six month Janelle is left with a young mother and no father.
An appeal of Russell’s conviction has been planned, but the family feels that their lack of financial resources will prevent them from having a just reversal of the verdict.
In the meantime the African American grandmother and great grandmother are supporting Flores and her infant daughter.
They don’t see any color and they don’t aspire to any feud of Black and Brown-all they know is love and it’s blind.