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Florida Man Accused Of Slaughtering Family He Had 'Zero Connection' With Pleads Not Guilty As Lawyers Weighs Insanity Defense
Authorities say Bryan Riley targeted the family, sneaking into their home in the early morning hours, after erroneously believing the family was involved with sex trafficking.
A Florida man, who has been accused of slaughtering an innocent family under the delusional belief that they had been sex traffickers, has pleaded not guilty as his defense team still considers a possible insanity defense.
Bryan Riley entered the not guilty plea in court on Tuesday, according to the court filing obtained by Oxygen.com.
Although the filing gives no mention of a possible insanity defense, earlier this week Assistant Public Defender Jane McNeill had asked the judge for more time to hire mental health experts to consider the legal strategy.
“We are looking at a defense of insanity as an option,” McNeill said at a hearing Monday, according to the Associated Press. “There is so much work that must be done before we can make such a determination.”
Riley asked that the case be delayed a year to prepare for the trial, but prosecutors pushed back on that timeline, asking Polk County Circuit Judge Jalal Harb to allow no more than 45 days of extra time for the defense.
“The defense will have plenty of time to do what they need to do,” Assistant State Attorney Lauren Perry said. “A case put on by the state of Florida rarely gets better with time.”
Riley, 33, is facing 22 charges—including murder, arson, kidnapping, burglary and animal cruelty—after authorities said he broke into a Lakeland, Florida family’s home on Sept. 5, killed four of the family members inside the home and a back apartment and tortured and severely injured a 11-year-old girl.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference last month that the family was allegedly targeted because Riley believed the family was involved in sex trafficking—although there was no evidence to suggest that was the case.
The night before the family was killed, investigators believe Riley, a 33-year-old Marine veteran, had stopped by the home of a fellow church member to pick up a first aid kit for Hurricane Ida victims around 7 p.m.
A few minutes later, they believe Riley encountered 40-year-old Justice Gleason mowing his lawn, approached him and told him that God had sent him to speak to Gleason’s daughter named “Amber” because she was planning to commit suicide, Judd said.
Gleason allegedly told Riley that no one by the name of Amber lived at the home and threatened to call 911.
Investigators said Riley agreed to leave the property after claiming that he was “the cops for God” but returned early the next morning clad in camouflage to attack the family as they slept, despite having “zero connection” to the victims, according to authorities.
Polk County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the home after hearing reports of an active shooter to find Riley standing outside the home, near his truck which had been set on fire, according to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
As they approached the property, deputies said Riley ran back into the house and they could hear a wave of gunfire and a woman screaming.
Authorities would later discover Gleason dead inside the home along with his 33-year-old girlfriend Theresa Lanham, who died cradling the couple’s slain 3-month-old son in her arms. The family’s dog Diogi had also been killed.
Lanham’s mother, 62-year-old Catherine Delgado, was found shot to death in a back apartment behind the home. She had been hiding in the closet, according to the affidavit.
An 11-year-old girl survived the horrific ordeal and later told authorities that Riley had been searching for “Amber” throughout the home, taunting and torturing her about the fictitious girl’s whereabouts.
“You know why I killed your parents?” Riley allegedly asked her, according to Judd. “They’re sex traffickers. … I shot her in legs, then when she wouldn’t tell me where Amber was, I killed her.”
The girl managed only to play dead and pray as she waited for law enforcement to rescue her, Judd said.
“He was seeking out Amber, who wanted to commit suicide, who was a victim of sex trafficking and it was all a figment of his imagination,” Judd said last month. “All fiction, all made up by him. There were no victims of sex crime in that house.”
As deputies closed in, Riley exchanged gunfire with the authorities before surrendering and being taken into custody, authorities said.
He suffered an apparent gunshot wound but was later treated and released from a local hospital.
His girlfriend would later tell investigators that he had been acting “very strangely” in the week before the deadly shooting and thought he could speak with God, according to the affidavit.
After first encountering Gleason on the lawnmower, she told detectives that he returned to their home in Brandon and told her about the incident, claiming that he had been trying to save “Amber” from committing suicide.
Riley’s girlfriend tried to convince him that he wasn’t really speaking to God, but he became upset, locked himself in a room and asked her to go away, the affidavit stated. When she woke up, he was gone.
In court on Monday, Harb opted not to rule on the defense’s request to delay the trial, saying that there was “a lot to digest” before making the decision.
As part of the not guilty plea, Riley requested a trial by jury.