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Man who killed Castroville toddler in 2011 has been granted parole, DA’s office says

CASTROVILLE, Calif. (KION-TV)- UPDATE ON APRIL 23, 2024 AT 5:39 PM- The Monterey County District Attorney's Office confirmed that a man who was convicted of killing a 2-year-old Castroville toddler was granted parole on Tuesday.

David Leonardo was granted parole in a Salinas courtroom on Tuesday. On Dec. 3, 2011, 2-year-old Priscilla Hernandez was killed by Leonardo after she had soiled her paints. Leonardo was currently dating Priscilla's mother at the time of her death.

Leonardo was 25 at the time of murder which was only a year shy of aging out of the youth category for offenders.

In 2014, Leonardo was convicted of the murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison

Chief Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon told KION that the District Attorney's Office will be filing an appeal.

Governor Gavin Newsom will decide if Leonardo will be released.

The Hernandez Family told KION they are devastated and hope Newsom will overturn the latest parole decision.

Leonardo was originally granted parole in March 2023 but Newsom did overturn that decision as well.

The California Board of Parole will be hearing Leonardo's case at a future date.

Leonardo could be out of jail within the next four months according to the DA's office.

Grandmother of Castroville toddler murder victim advocates for database of convicted murderers

UPDATE ON APRIL 13, 2023, AT 3:41 PM- Thursday would have been Priscilla Rose Hernandez's 14th birthday.

Instead, it remains a somber day for her grandmother Kora Sambrano.

"Everything comes back. I mean, it’s like living it over and over," Sambrano said.

Sambrano lost her granddaughter after she was killed by her mother's boyfriend David Leonardo, on Dec. 3, 2011. Leonardo beat Priscilla to death for soiling her paintings.

It is believed it was not the first time that Leonardo physically abused the two-year-old girl.

Leonardo would have been granted parole on Thursday if Priscilla's family had continued the fight to keep him in prison.

This is a fight Sambrano is not willing to give up on.

"Now, here we are back in the trenches begging people to please help, please keep him in prison. He doesn’t deserve to get out," Sambrano said.

Governor Gavin Newsom reversed the Board Parole's decision in March. Newsom wrote to the board and explained his decision.

"I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger if society if released from prison at this time," Newsom said

A psychologist found that Leonardo had gaps in his self-awareness as his identified triggers to violence were interpreted to have minimal relevance to his actions.

"It’s a relief to know he’s going to be in there and for at least for one year and that he can’t hurt anybody," Sambrano said. "I’ll be asking again out there for people to sign our petitions and write letters, and I thank so many people out there for helping in this process."

Leonardo will be eligible again for parole in April 2024. Sambrano wants a way for murder suspects of children to be tracked like sex offenders.

"The unfortunate thing is we track sex offenders, and we don’t know if he’s going to be released in your neighborhood or next to your children," Sambrano said.

For Sambrano, justice is not served with a decade in prison for second-degree murder when a child's entire life to live was taken away.

Governor Newsom overturns parole for convicted Castroville toddler killer

UPDATE March 22, 2023, at 11:33 a.m.- The man found guilty of the second-degree murder of two-year-old Priscilla Rose Hernandez back in 2011 had his parole revoked Friday.

The family of Priscilla shared a letter with KION from Governor Gavin Newsom's office stating that parole was granted to David Leonardo back in October of 2022 after serving almost 11 years of a life sentence was overturned. The Governor's Office overturned the parole board's decision stating "I find the evidence shows that he (Leonardo) poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time. Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole, Mr. Leonardo."

A psychologist found that he has gaps in his self-awareness and wrote, "His identified triggers to violence were interpreted to have minimal relevance with his actions in the commitment offense." He was also encouraged to continue focusing on developing insights into his triggers for antisocial conduct, particularly with family relationships.

Leonardo was also encouraged to work on his coping skills to help maintain healthy relationships. Thus he has to do additional work to mitigate the risk of family violence before he can be released safely.

Leonardo reported that on the day he killed Priscilla he felt he had "lost control" of his relationship with the victim's mother, which led home to harm Priscilla.

He will be eligible for another parole hearing no later than 18 months from the date of his last hearing.

Family hopes to overturn parole for man who killed 2-year-old girl in Castroville

Two-year-old Priscilla Rose Hernandez was murdered almost 11 years ago, and the pain still lingers for her family. Kora Sombrano, the toddler's grandmother, says Priscilla was so special. 

When Sombrano wasn't caring for the "big-eyed child with beautiful curls," Priscilla and her older sister were left to be cared for by their mother's boyfriend, David Leonardo, in Castroville. 

"In the mornings when the girls would stay here. The oldest one would come out, and she would hide under the chair, and Pricilla would run full speed and jump on my lap," said Sombrano. "And I'd wrap my robe around her. And I'd say ask them what they want for breakfast, and Cilla would always look up at me, and she would go. Pancakes, grandma, pancakes."

Kora says there were signs Leonardo was physically abusing Pricilla. There were several questionable bruises. Yet another child was on the way, Priscilla's mother was pregnant. Fearing CPS would do nothing… Leonardo was warned. 

On December 3rd of, 2011 -the girls were in his care after dropping their mother off at work. 

"They had stopped at the grocery store on the way home. And Priscilla acted up in the store, and so when they got home, he made some soup for the older girl, and he put Priscilla in the corner," said Sobbrano "Then Priscilla had wet her pants and messed her pants. So he had gotten very angry at that. He said she did it on purpose. I guess he punched her in the stomach."

The force of his punch was so severe it caused internal bleeding. It was the final blow Priscilla's two-year-old body could take. An autopsy showed she had numerous bruises, had been smothered that day, and had his grab marks on her arms. 

Leonardo was convicted and sentenced to serve 15 to life.

Assistant District Attorney Marisol Mendez with Monterey County says mandates with youth and senior offenders increase the number of inmates up for parole consideration. 

David was 26 when he murdered Priscilla and has positioned himself to earn meritorious credits in prison. 

"This inmate has been able to participate in a lot of programming that they offer in the state prison system a lot of self-help groups a lot of educational programs," said Mendez.

Yet the DA's office argues that Priscilla's murderer hasn't taken responsibility for all the repeated abuse the child faced. 

352, those are injuries on Priscilla's body that he still hasn't accounted for, said Mendez.

The only hope for Sombrano is that governor Newsom reverses the parole board's decision.

Kora says David's inmate number is A-S-9-5-6-4. She is asking people to help in her effort to oppose the parole decision. 

Governor Gavin Newsom at 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173 Sacramento, CA 95814

With the anniversary of Priscilla's death approaching, the holidays are hard. 

For victims having to hear all the details again at the parole hearing, it's like reliving the crime all over again. 

Convicted Castroville toddler killer given parole after serving less than 11 years of life sentence

UPDATE Oct. 28, 2022, at 3:33 p.m.- A man that was convicted of killing his then girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter was granted parole after serving less than 11 years of a 15-year to life sentence, said Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine. M. Pacioni.  

David Leonardo, 37, was found upstairs on Dec. 3, 2011, at 1:17 p.m. by Monterey County Deputies and firefighters, holding two-year-old Pricilla Rose Hernandez. This happened on the 11400 block of McDougal Street in Castroville.

She was not wearing a shirt and had several visible bruises on her body, including her lower abdomen, said Pacioni.

"Her eyes were open. Her body was pale and motionless. She was unconscious. Her extremities were cool to the touch. She had an open airway," said Pacioni. "Mr. Leonardo was talking rapidly and was visibly upset. It was then learned that Leonardo was Pricilla’s mother’s boyfriend who watched the children."

After an autopsy, it was revealed that the child suffered blunt force trauma to her abdomen that caused tears in the lining of both her abdomen and colon, resulting in internal bleeding and leading to her death after a few minutes, said Pacioni. The injuries to her mouth indicated that she had been smothered within 24 hours before her death.

She also had several bruises on her chest, abdomen, head, legs, and arms. Bruising on her right arm was determined to be from grab marks, said Pacioni.

Once the autopsy was completed, Leonardo admitted to getting mad and hitting Priscilla in the stomach. He said she had been throwing a tantrum about her mother leaving, so he put her in timeout. She then popped and peed her pants to get back at Leonardo, and he responded by punching her in the stomach.

During his parole hearing Wednesday, the Board said the convicted toddler killer showed "true remorse and credibility," according to Pacioni. The Board listed his accomplishments in prison and said he had adequate parole plans.

This was Leonardo's first parole hearing, said Pacioni.

Family members of Priscilla were present, including both grandmothers, pleading with the Board not to release Leonardo. Many letters of opposition to release were presented along with a multi-page petition with signatures of members of the public opposing his parole.

"The Monterey County District Attorney opposed release at the hearing, arguing that Leonardo lacked insight concerning his commission of murder and did not demonstrate true remorse," said Pacioni. "Instead, Leonardo’s portrayal of events minimized his responsibility for taking the child’s life. The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office will request that Governor Newsom reverse the Panel’s decision to grant parole."

Man Pleads Guilty in Murder of 2-year-old Girl

A 28-year-old man charged with beating a toddler to death reached a plea deal in relation to the charges.

David Leonardo, from Castroville, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Pricilla Hernandez.

Leonardo called 911 on Dec. 3, 2011, to report the girl was unresponsive. When police arrived, they felt the situation was suspicious and started a criminal investigation. That investigation led to the arrest of Leonardo, who confessed to hitting Hernandez in the abdomen out of anger.

Police say there was no other evidence of continuous or ongoing child abuse.

Leonardo will be sentenced to life in prison on Feb. 20, 2014, to 15 years.

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Veronica Macias

Veronica Macias is an evening anchor at KION News Channel 5/46.

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Derrick Ow

Assignment Editor for KION News Channel 5/46


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