Prosecutors announced today they will seek the death penalty against Bryan Riley, who has been accused in the slayings of four family members in their north Lakeland homes on Sept. 5. The 33-year-old security guard and former Marine sharpshooter had been under the delusion that the victims were engaged in sex trafficking of a pre-teen girl, Sheriff Grady Judd has said.

The office of State Attorney Brian Haas today filed a notice of intent saying the killings of 40-year-old Justice Gleason, his girlfriend, their baby and the child’s grandmother were “committed on a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”

A 22-count Polk County indictment filed Tuesday charges Riley with four counts of first-degree murder as well as charges of attempted murder (in the wounding of an 11-year-old girl), kidnapping, arson, burglary and animal cruelty (for the fatal shooting the family dog).

In today’s filing, prosecutors said they intend to prove:

  • “The defendant was previously convicted of another capital felony or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
  • “The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.
  • “The capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit, any aggravated child abuse, arson, burglary and/or kidnapping.
  • “The capital felony was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody.
  • “The capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
  • “The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.
  • “The victim of the capital felony listed in Count 4 of the indictment was a person less than twelve (12) years of age.”

Riley is being held without bail at the Polk County Jail. He has not yet entered a plea.

Sheriff Judd gave this account of the murders on Sept. 9, a few days after Riley was arrested.

Riley, a Brandon resident, drove to north Lakeland to visit a friend on Sept. 4. Soon after leaving his friend’s house that evening, he spotted a young girl in a yard on North Socrum Loop Road and believed she was “Amber.” 

In his delusions, Riley though he could converse directly with God and God told him to rescue Amber, who was contemplating suicide after being subjected to sexual abuse, Judd said, emphasizing that no sexual abuse had occurred.

Riley stopped and talked with the girl’s father and grandmother, who told him to leave, which he did.

He returned shortly after 2 the next morning and began casing the property where he had seen the young girl. Sometime after 4, he entered a small apartment behind the main house and killed the child’s grandmother, according to Judd.

He then went into the main house, where he shot and killed the family dog, Diogi, and then confronted other family members hiding in a bathroom, Judd said.

He shot and killed the child’s father, his girlfriend, and their infant son, Judd said. He also tortured and shot the 11-year-old girl multiple times after she said she wasn’t Amber, according to Judd.

Lt. Duane Tompkins of the Sheriff’s Department heard automatic gunfire at 4:22 a.m. while on a call two miles away and hurried to the scene, sending all the personnel he could muster, Judd said.

Tompkins confronted Riley, who was wearing battle armor, at the rear of the house. Both fired their weapons and retreated.

More shots were fired between Riley and law enforcement officers who had gathered on the property. In all, Riley fired around 59 times in the course of the morning and law enforcement officers — five sheriff’s deputies and one Lakeland Police officer — shot more than 100 rounds, Judd said.

Riley was wounded during the second volley of gunfire and left the house with his arms raised to surrender.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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