Jury to mull case of West Palm Beach man accused of impersonating cop


A Palm Beach County jury will continue deliberations Friday in the case of a 21-year-old West Pam Beach man accused of impersonating a police officer to lure a woman into his car nearly two years ago before he tried to coerce her into sex.

Cristian Leon faces charges of kidnapping, falsely impersonating an officer during the commission of a felony, and attempted sexual battery charges based on accusations that he identified himself as a police officer to a woman looking for her friend outside Pawn Shop on Clematis on April 1, 2016, then refused to let her out of his car unless she performed a sex act on him.

Circuit Judge Samantha Shosberg Feuer sent jurors home for the day Thursday, ending brief deliberations that followed closing arguments from prosecutors and Leon’s attorneys, who tried for a final time to tell jurors that prosecutors failed to prove their case against Leon.

Since the start of Leon’s trial Wednesday, assistant public defenders Nicholas Stebinger and Kelsey Bissonnette have called the case one of mistaken identity.

“The case that the state has given you, it is a perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Stebinger said.

They have disputed several parts of the alleged victim’s story. Among them: the alleged victim described her assailant as a dark-skinned Hispanic male and Leon, Stebinger argued, is fair-skinned. She also said the assailant had a tattoo on his right bicep. But Leon’s tattoo is on his left bicep, as he showed jurors Wednesday shortly after the start of the trial.

And although the victim initially described the fake cop as having a beard, Leon’s attorneys noted that the mug shot from his April 1, 2016, arrest hours after the alleged incident showed little more than scant stubble.

But perhaps most important, Stebinger said, was that the alleged victim failed to identify Leon in a photo lineup, and only called police later after seeing a sketch eventually linked to Leon attached to a news report.

One of Leon’s coworkers called police after identifying him from the lineup.

Assistant State Attorneys Amy Berkman and Robert Johnson said that, the alleged victim’s testimony, the testimony of another woman who claimed she had a similar encounter with Leon days earlier, and the words of Leon himself all contributed to solid proof that he was the one who tried to attack the now 23-year-old alleged victim.

During her final arguments, Berkman again showed jurors a photo Leon posted on social media shortly before the alleged incident. He was posing in a uniform and said “Finally hired for West Palm” and added a police officer emoji in the caption.

“This is a man who wanted to be a police officer more than anything,” Berkman said.

Johnson, the last attorney to speak to jurors, called Leon a sexual predator and reminded jurors that he initially lied to police for 20 minutes and said he’d never encountered either woman, then asked to “start over” and changed his story.

“He’s as guilty as you can possibly be in a criminal courtroom,” Johnson said.




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