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Ashtabula man charged with murder, assault in girlfriend's beating death

Posted at 6:01 PM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-12 16:35:51-05

A man has been charged in connection with the beating death of his longtime girlfriend Sunday afternoon.

According to court documents, 53-year-old Leonard Bankston, pleaded not guilty to murder and felonious assault charges on Monday.

Bankston is accused of killing his girlfriend, 54-year-old Sheila Pyles.

Bankston has a lengthy criminal history, including prior convictions for domestic violence, according to court records.

Shortly before 2 p.m Sunday, police responded to Bankston’s home on the 800 block of West 49th Street in Ashtabula for a possible overdose. 

When authorities arrived on scene and saw Pyles’ injuries, they knew she had been the victim of an assault, said Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell.

Pyles was taken to a nearby hospital but later died from her injuries.

One of Pyles’ longtime friends, Jackie Sanders, said she long feared that this day might come. Upon hearing the news that her friend was dead, Sanders’ emotions were raw and visceral.

“I just want to say they need to kill [Bankston]. They don’t even need to waste the taxpayers money. He has abused and beat so many women, he needs to die,” Sanders said. “God, please forgive me for saying that, but he needs to die for what he did to Sheila Pyles.”

Sanders said Bankston and Pyles’ tumultuous relationship began roughly six years ago. Long before that, Bankston was involved in other violent relationships with women, according to court records.

Bankston has been charged with domestic violence seven times since 1998. While only two of those cases resulted in convictions, many of the other cases were dismissed just days before trial. Bankston has also been previously charged with felonious assault, menacing and intimidation of a witness.

Most recently, Bankston was charged with domestic violence in mid-October. He had a hearing scheduled for January.

“[Pyles] was a beautiful person, a caring person. She was very giving, very kind, very beautiful,” Sanders said. “She wouldn’t harm a string of hair on your head. She didn’t deserve that. Prayers go out to both families but, sorry God, [Bankston] needs to die.”

An official cause of death has not been released but the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office is reporting it as a suspected homicide.

Bankston is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 19

A two-year-long News 5 On Your Side investigation has revealed how women across Ohio often remain at risk from their abusers. This includes several critical loopholes in Ohio's domestic violence laws. Among them: 

  • There is no state law barring abusers from obtaining weapons
  • Protection orders are often never served on abusers
  • There is no central registry identifying abusers who are under protection orders
  • There is no law requiring police to search homes of suspected abusers for guns

Since 2016, Bankston has been on two years probation. A protection order barring contact with the victim was removed and allowed what the court called "consensual contact."