Less than three hours after an involuntary manslaughter case was dismissed Monday morning against Leeyonna Ward in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, a grand jury reindicted her with an even more serious charge: murder.
In both cases, Ward, 22, of North Linden, is accused of fatally shooting 24-year-old Preston Allman and trafficking in drugs.
Ward’s attorney said the man she fatally shot in 2021 was trying to carjack her. He maintains that Ward was only ever charged with a crime because she is Black and Allman was white.
“If you just change the color of the people, if my client’s a white woman and shot a Black guy carjacking her, I’d bet everything I owned that this case never would’ve gotten indicted,” said Ward’s attorney, Joseph R. Landusky II.
Landusky said he’s not blaming any one person but said it’s a systemic issue.
Franklin County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Janet Grubb, who oversees the office’s criminal division, told The Dispatch she flatly rejects any allegation of racial bias.
“Though no living person is free of prejudice, we strive to make decisions on cases that are free of discrimination of any sort,” Grubb said.
Past reporting:Woman who claimed self-defense now charged with manslaughter in North Linden shooting
In the now-dismissed case, Ward was accused in court documents of causing Allman’s death as a result of an alleged drug deal gone bad.
Ward was scheduled to go to trial Monday for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated trafficking in drugs, among other charges. But after a witness backed out of testifying, prosecutors asked Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page to allow the trial to be postponed.
Page denied the request to move back the trial. Prosecutors then asked Page to dismiss the case, which Page did around 11:30 a.m.
By 2 p.m. Monday, Franklin County Prosecutor Gary Tyack’s office brought evidence to a county grand jury again, and Ward was indicted for murder, involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and trafficking in drugs, among other charges.
In the new case, Ward is accused in court documents of purposely causing Allman’s death.
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Court records filed by Columbus police claim Ward was meeting a man for a drug deal around 9:30 p.m. May 1, 2021, in the parking lot of a market on Oakland Park Avenue in North Linden. That man is the witness who decided not to testify, and his name is Eduardo Contreras, 27, according to Landusky.
The Dispatch reviewed a video captured by the market’s security camera, but for much of the brief video, a van parked closer to the camera obscures what’s happening in Ward’s car.
The video shows Ward pulling into a parking spot and Contreras getting into the passenger seat. Within 15 seconds, Allman is approaching the car.
Court records claim Ward and Contreras told authorities what happened in the car: Allman climbed into the back seat of the vehicle and pointed a BB gun at Ward, pressing it into her neck. Ward suddenly jumped out of the vehicle.
The video shows the car, with the driver’s door open, move forward and crash into the market. Why is unclear. Ward may have accidentally hit the gas pedal while bailing from the vehicle.
The driver’s door shuts. Contreras gets out of the passenger side and runs away. At the same time, Ward runs forward with her gun pointed.
The video shows Ward opening the driver’s door and shooting at Allman, who is now sitting in the driver’s seat. Allman then drives the car away.
Landusky said Allman was still pointing the BB gun at Ward — which Ward believed to be a real gun — when she defended herself. She also had the right to apprehend a violent criminal, Landusky said.
“He still had a gun in his hand and she shot him,” Landusky said. “(Prosecutors) are trying to make it like it’s some drug case. There was never a drug transaction. There was never any money exchanged. It was all a trap to rob my client at gunpoint and carjack her car.”
Landusky accused Contreras of planning the carjacking with Allman, alleging that he arrived with Allman and that he supplied Allman with the BB gun.
“But this other guy never got charged with any of it,” Landusky said.
Contreras is currently in prison after pleading guilty to arson and drug possession in unrelated cases.