Family of man killed in Jacksonville Beach pray for justice

Men who surrendered in Honolulu back in Duval County after extradition

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Family and loved ones gathered Tuesday night praying for justice in the shooting death of a man in Jacksonville Beach.

A vigil was held in memory of Leon Bennett hours after two men charged in connection to his death appeared in court. They were arrested in Hawaii and extradited to Florida.

Friends and family met at the spot police said the father of three was killed while leaving a bar in June. Bennett's mother Rhonda Kelly said the vigil was the beginning of their fight for justice.

"My son had a heart. He was an old soul and he was family orientated and you took that from us," Rhonda Kelly said. "They know they're guilty."

Shaquille Walker, 25, and Jose Lebron, 29, are accused of tampering with evidence in the shooting death of Leon Bennett. Walker is also charged with carrying a concealed firearm.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photos of Shaquille Walker (left) and Jose Lebron (right)

Bennett's family was in court when the two men went before a judge on the charges. 

"It's important for them to see that this wasn't just some stupid thing, some mistake you made in your life. You took a life. You ruined a family. You broke so many hearts," said Ed Kelly, Bennett's grandfather. "We have lost a part of us. There's a part of us that is gone, that we will never get back, and it hurts like hell."

The judge set Walker's bond at $150,000, and ordered Lebron held on $75,000 bond. 

"They need to spend the rest of their lives in jail," Ed Kelly said.

Bennett's loved ones say they want Walker and Lebron's charges upgraded to murder, and his stepfather, James Phillips, wants the case to go to trial.

"I want to sit and look at these two individuals in their face as men. I want to look at them, and I want them to get on the stand, and whatever the case may be, I want to hear their side of the story," Phillips said.

No one has yet been charged with killing Bennett. But Lekea Pringle, Bennett's fiancee, said she witnessed the love of her life die and she wants justice. 

"This is so hard," she told News4Jax. " Not only did I lose him, but I watched him go."

According to Jacksonville Beach police, Bennett, a 23-year-old father of two, was shot to death about 2:30 a.m. June 24 as he left a bar near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and First Street.

Moments before the shooting, Bennett was involved in a fight outside on First Street, which was caught on video. Pringle, said she, Bennett and a female friend were walking down Seventh Avenue after the altercation when shots were fired in their direction. Pringle said Bennett shielded her and her friend from the gunfire.

Leon Bennett

"I wake up every day and I see my babies that look just like him, two boys, and I have to raise them," Pringle said Tuesday.

Jacksonville police said several tips led them to identify Walker and Lebron in connection with the case. The two men turned themselves in to police in Honolulu, Hawaii, after warrants were issued for their arrests.

Pringle told News4Jax that she doesn't know Walker and Lebron, and had never seen them before June 24. She said she knows there will be many court hearings in the future, and she and the rest of Bennett's family will be there.

Both Walker and Lebron, who are being held in the Duval County jail, confirmed they are hiring attorneys. They will both be back in court Aug. 29. 

About the Authors:

Jenese Harris

Reporter, weekend anchor and movie reviewer.

Corley Peel

Reports weeknights for The Ten O'Clock News and News4Jax at 11.