Man Pleads Guilty to 2022 Murder of Leesburg Girlfriend

TAVARES, Fla.—In an unexpected twist Monday, a Leesburg man accused of gunning down his girlfriend last year pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon the same day jury selection for his trial was set to begin.

Alphonza Bryant, 41, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for killing Melissa Keonna Smith, 37, in the laundry room of her Leesburg home on Aug. 8, 2022.

Bryant was captured on video approaching Smith’s home, brandishing a firearm, and “engaging in a verbal altercation off-camera that culminated in a single gunshot,” Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney William “Bill” Gladson’s office stated in a press release.

A witness told Leesburg Police Department Bryant tried to force his way in the laundry room while armed and the witness was, “compelled to leave the scene.” Bryant fired a single shot, killing Smith, fled the scene and dropped a gun.

Bryant was arrested two days after the murder for a violation of probation in a prior case and later charged with Smith’s murder after an “exhaustive investigation by Leesburg Police Department.”

“We hope these charges allow for some level of healing and relief for the family and friends of Ms. Smith,” LPD Capt. Joe Iozzi said after Bryant’s arrest last year. “We would especially like to thank our community for their assistance with this investigation.”

Bryant is currently in the Lake County Jail and will remain there until he is transferred to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Eyewitness testimony serves as a crucial pillar in prosecuting any case, let alone a murder case. Bryant knew the evidence stacked against him would weave the narrative of truth for jurors to convict him,” Gladson said in a statement. “Acknowledging this grim reality, we are pleased the defendant was sentenced to 45 years in prison. We hope this helps to bring closure to the tragic loss suffered by Melissa Keonna Smith’s family.”

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