Florida Seeks Death Penalty for Marine Vet Charged With Massacring Family

October 1, 2021Hannah Ray Lambert
death penalty sought for Bryan James Riley

Bryan James Riley, 33, is accused of shooting and killing four people Sept. 5, 2021, in Lakeland, Florida. Only an 11-year-old girl survived the massacre. Photos via the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Prosecutors in Florida are pursuing the death penalty in the case of a Marine Corps veteran accused of massacring a family he imagined were child sex traffickers.

A 22-count indictment was filed last week in Polk County Circuit Court against Bryan James Riley. It included four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, arson, burglary, and animal cruelty for killing the family’s dog, The Associated Press reported.

Riley, 33, is accused of shooting and killing Justice Gleason, 40; Theresa Lanham, 33; the couple’s baby, Jody; and Lanham’s mother, Catherine Delgado, 62, on Sept. 5 in Lakeland, Florida. Gleason’s 11-year-old daughter was shot several times but survived.

In the state attorney’s office’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty, prosecutors said the killings were “committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.”

A chance encounter the day before the killings introduced Riley to his victims, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Riley was allegedly picking up a first-aid kit for Hurricane Ida relief from a friend’s house when he saw Gleason mowing his lawn with his 11-year-old daughter nearby, Judd said in a press conference after the slayings. Riley allegedly approached Gleason and told him God gave him a vision that his daughter “Amber” would commit suicide. Gleason told him he didn’t know anyone named by that name and eventually threatened to call the police before Riley left, Judd said.

death penalty
Sheriff Grady Judd holds up photos of murder suspect Bryan James Riley during a Sept. 9, 2021, press conference in Polk County, Florida. Screenshot via Facebook Live.

Riley said he then received another message from God, according to investigators. “God told me to kill everyone and rescue Amber because she is a victim of sex trafficking,” he allegedly told police after they arrested him.

“This was all fiction, all made up by him,” Judd said. “There were no victims of sex trafficking in that house.”

Investigators say Riley left his home at 1 a.m. the next morning, wearing body armor and carrying three weapons with him. He did “reconnaissance” on Gleason’s home, moved his pickup three times so he would have a fast getaway, slashed the tires of two vehicles (one of which he would later set on fire), and made a path of glow sticks so he and “Amber” would be able to find their way out, Judd said. 

The massacre began at 4:22 a.m. with Riley allegedly firing at least 100 shots in the main house and a smaller home in the back where Delgado lived. The 11-year-old girl survived by playing dead, police said.

Riley spent four years in the Marines with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Judd said. Most recently, he worked as a security guard in the Lakeland area.

Read Next: Feds: Dirty Cop Threatened To Order Sicario Hit on Fellow Officer’s Family

Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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