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'Passion' Prompts Man to Confess

A 21-year-old from Texas admits to a killing after viewing Gibson's film on the Crucifixion.

March 26, 2004|Scott Gold and Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writers

RICHMOND, Texas — A southern Texas man who says he killed his pregnant lover and made it look like a suicide confessed after seeing "The Passion of the Christ," saying the film helped persuade him to come forward, law enforcement officers said Thursday.

The woman's death in January had been tentatively ruled a suicide.

"It's a very strong movie," Fort Bend County, Texas, Sheriff's Lt. Jim Pokluda said in an interview. "It would make a man think twice about any sin that he has committed."

The Mel Gibson film is a graphic depiction of Jesus' final hours and is drawing record numbers of viewers.

Dan Randall Leach II, 21, of Rosenberg, Texas, was charged with first-degree murder, according to an indictment issued Tuesday. Because the indictment is a non-capital charge, Texas prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty, said Pokluda, the commander of Fort Bend County's criminal investigations unit.

Leach was being held Thursday night in the Fort Bend County Jail under a $100,000 bond.

Pokluda said Leach confessed to strangling his girlfriend, 19-year-old Ashley Nicole Wilson, with a cord and then staging the death to make it appear she had committed suicide.

Wilson's mother found her dead in her studio apartment in Richmond about 30 miles southwest of Houston. Wilson was pregnant. The pair had been dating for three to five months, and investigators said it appeared that Leach wanted to end the relationship.

Investigators declined to discuss specifics of the case, saying they did not want to tarnish evidence that might be used at a trial. But Pokluda said that Wilson was found with a ligature around her neck. The device was designed to look as though Wilson had tied it herself, Pokluda said.

A note was also found in the apartment "expressing problems in her life," Pokluda said. The note was believed to be written by Wilson, but investigators were still trying to determine the circumstances behind it.

In a preliminary decision, a medical examiner had ruled Wilson's death a suicide.

"The ligature was applied in such a manner that if an individual tightened it enough to where they lost consciousness and then slid forward they would commit suicide," he said. "The crime scene had been staged to make all the appearances of a suicide. There were no signs of a struggle or that anyone else had been there."

This month, nearly two months after the body was found, Leach went to see "The Passion of the Christ," investigators said. On March 7, he went to church, announced that he needed to confess a crime and drove himself to the sheriff's office. Details of his confession were not revealed until his indictment was issued and unsealed.

No one answered the door Thursday evening at the home Leach shares with his parents. Wilson's relatives could not be reached for comment.

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