Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'God Was With Me,' Says Man Shot In Lake Wales Arson

By THOMAS W. KRAUSE of the Tampa Tribune and and JEFF PATTERSON of News Channel 8

Published: December 17, 2007

Photos News Channel 8 Video

LAKE WALES - He was just a neighbor trying to help.

On Thursday afternoon, Brandon Greisman looked through his window and saw smoke. Minutes after he walked outside to investigate, he was shot across the bridge of his nose. His 5-year-old and 10-year-old daughters witnessed the shooting. They thought he had been killed.

"If God hadn't made me turn my head," Greisman said this afternoon, "I'd be dead right now."

Still in pain and groggy from medication, Griesman wore a white bandage across his face but said he has no regrets.

"I would do it again if it happened again," he said. "I wish things didn't have to happen that way, but you know what? God was with me."

About 3:30 p.m. Thursday, a man walked in to Headley Nationwide Insurance and pulled a gun on Juanita "Jane" Luciano, 23, and Yvonne Bustamante, 26. He demanded money, then began to pour gasoline around the room. He set the business and the two women on fire.

Luciano was nearly six months pregnant at the time.

Lake Wales police arrested Leon Davis Jr. in the arson. Before the two women were rushed to the hospital, they were able to identify Davis as their assailant. Polk County sheriff's officials said Davis also is responsible for the execution-style killings of two men at a gas station this month. He has not yet been charged in those shootings.

Greisman said he left his home to investigate the smoke and immediately saw Luciano on fire.

"I tried to pat her out," he said. "I got burns on my stomach and chest."

Then, he heard a gunshot.

"There was no, 'If you don't get away from them' or anything," Greisman said. "He just shot me."

The shooter, who showed no emotion and had a "cold look in his eyes" just walked away, Greisman said.

Greisman's daughters screamed. His wife, who also had wandered outside, became hysterical. They thought he was dead, Greisman said,

Oddly, Greisman said he didn't realize he had been shot until his family reacted. Once he discovered he was bleeding, he put his hands to his face.

"I realized I didn't have a nose anymore," he said.

Panic set in. Greisman said he began to wonder whether the bullet entered his face. He wondered whether adrenaline was the only reason he hadn't collapsed. He wondered whether he would die.

Today, Greisman said, he is in a lot of pain. Loud noises make him jump and he suffers from nightmares. Doctors had to remove skin from his shoulder to use as a graft for a new nose.

Greisman, the father of six children ages 2 to 14, said he moved to Lake Wales after leaving Las Vegas and his native California. One of the reasons he came here was to get away from high-crime areas.

"This is probably the last place I thought this would happen," he said.

Greisman said he briefly had met the women at the insurance shop about four months earlier. He had never met Davis.

Some lawyers have suggested the Polk County State Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty for Davis. Greisman said he didn't know what to think of that.

"I just pray for his soul," he said.

Polk County sheriff's officials and a state attorney spokesman said they were in meetings today to discuss additional charges against Davis. An announcement is expected soon. Neither office wanted to comment further.

Luciano and Bustamante were still recovering today in an Orlando hospital. Luciano's son was delivered by Caesarean section. The boy died early Sunday morning.

Rita Peters, the chief of the sex crimes and child abuse division of the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, said Florida law allows murder charges for fetuses that die as a result of crimes against their mothers.

The law says someone can be charged with the unlawful killing of a fetus if he or she intended to kill a woman but her fetus died instead, Peters said.

"Basically, the baby takes the place of the mom," Peters said.

Polk prosecutors can seek the death penalty for the fetus' death, although it would be difficult, Peters said. They would have to prove that Davis intended to kill Luciano and his actions were the cause of the fetus' death.

Mike Benito, a former homicide prosecutor with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, said he expects Polk prosecutors to first move forward on the attempted murder charges regarding Luciano and Bustamante. If they secure those convictions, he said, they could seek the death penalty in the killings of the two men at the gas station – Pravinkumar Patel and Dasharathbhai Patel.

Convictions on the attempted murder charges could be used against Davis and facilitate a death penalty sentence, Benito said.

With witnesses and ballistics linking Davis to the deaths, prosecution should not be problematic, Benito said. If Davis were to take an insanity defense, Benito said, he would face a tough fight.

To win a not guilty by insanity verdict, Davis would have to prove that he did not know right from wrong. When a criminal leaves the scene of a crime, that helps to show that he knew what he was doing was wrong, Benito said.

A plea deal, he said, seems unlikely in this case.

"If the evidence is there to present this case," Benito said, "I assume any prosecutor in Polk County is going to go after this full bore."

Reporter Thomas W. Krause can be reached at (813) 259-7698 or tkrause@tampatrib.com.

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