(KRON) — A man who murdered a 2-year-old girl in Monterey County was granted parole last year by the California Board of Parole after serving less than nine years in prison.
Before the killer, David Leonardo, was freed, Governor Gavin Newsom reversed the parole board’s decision Thursday using his powers as governor.
Newsom’s decision came after requests from the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and the family of 2-year-old Pricilla Rose Hernandez.
District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni said, “We are pleased with the Governor’s decision to reverse David Leonardo’s parole grant. This case highlights the unfortunate position that many victims and their families now face, due to lenient parole policies and post-conviction remedies. Victim’s families now need to continuously advocate for justice beyond the guilt phase which necessitates these families revisit the trauma of these heinous crimes.”
Pricilla’s lifeless body was found in Castroville by Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies on December 3, 2011 inside a bedroom with Leonardo.
Prosecutors wrote, “As deputies entered the upstairs bedroom, they saw Mr. Leonardo holding a two-year-old. Priscilla was not wearing a shirt and had several visible bruises on her body. Her body was pale and motionless.”
Leonardo was the toddler’s mother’s boyfriend.
An autopsy later concluded that Priscilla had been smothered, and suffered blunt force trauma to her abdomen that resulted in internal bleeding. The bleeding caused her death within minutes, prosecutors said. There were bruises on her chest, abdomen, head, legs and arms.
Leonardo later admitted to investigators that he punched the girl because she was crying. He said Pricilla “threw a tantrum” after she became upset that her mother was leaving, according to prosecutors. The girl’s mother had trusted Leonardo to care for her children when she was not home.
On February 20, 2014, Monterey County Judge Larry Hayes sentenced Leonardo to serve 15 years to life in prison.
At the parole hearing in October 2022, the victim’s parents and grandmothers were present and pleaded with the Board of Parole not to release Pricilla’s murderer. Prosecutors expressed concern over Leonardo’s lack of insight and true remorse.
Prosecutors wrote, “Pricilla’s family worked courageously in an effort to reverse the decision of the Board of Parole as well as bring public awareness to this instance and others like it where inmates sentenced to life are paroled after serving a small fraction of time.”