Judge agrees to postpone Luyster sentencing

Murder defendant faces life sentence

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

Published:

 

A chaotic scene unfolded Monday after Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis agreed to delay sentencing for triple murderer Brent Luyster.

The decision elicited gasps, shouts and sobs from family members and friends of Luyster’s shooting victims, as well as from the sole shooting survivor, Breanne Leigh.

As Luyster, 37, was escorted from the courtroom, Leigh and the victims’ families demanded answers.

The decision to postpone sentencing came after prosecuting attorneys divulged that a juror may have been influenced during deliberations by seeing Luyster’s shaved head — revealing a tattoo of SS bolts, a neo-Nazi symbol.

Luyster shaved his head sometime while the jury was in deliberations. The jury briefly saw Luyster the day before handing down guilty verdicts Nov. 17 on three counts of aggravated murder.

The convictions carry a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lewis had previously ruled that the jury wouldn’t see Luyster’s tattoos, because of potential prejudice.

“You know he did that on purpose. He shaved his head. He chose to do it. He’s the one who thought that it was over. Why are we having to suffer for it?” Danette Anderson, the mother of shooting victim Joseph LaMar, told media after the hearing. “He is a weak, evil man.”

“He’s a coward. He’s a coward,” LaMar’s sister, Abia Nunn, interrupted, shaking with anger. She said she felt sick to her stomach. “I am disgusted. I am shocked. I am disgusted,” she added.

Luyster fatally shot his friend LaMar, 38; LaMar’s partner, Janell Renee Knight, 43; and his best friend Zachary David Thompson, 36, on July 15, 2016, at LaMar’s home southeast of Woodland. Thompson’s partner, Leigh, then 32, was wounded but escaped. She identified Luyster as the shooter.

He denied shooting them.

In addition to aggravated first-degree murder, Luyster was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder and one count each of first- and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

According to a notice filed by the prosecution, a juror contacted a relative of an employee of the prosecuting attorney’s office and provided information about comments another juror allegedly made.

“In essence, this other unidentified juror had stated that seeing the defendant’s shaved head and tattoos had cemented his belief the defendant was guilty,” the court document states.

Luyster’s defense attorney, Steve Rucker, said Monday that they learned of the juror communication late last week. Although the deadline to file a motion for a new trial has passed, Lewis extended the period in light of the new information.

Luyster will be back in court Dec. 15 for Lewis to address the defense’s request. If the motion is denied, sentencing will presumably go forward.

‘It’s tiresome’

Deputy Prosecutor James Smith said in a phone interview that he doesn’t believe “there is a legal or factual basis to grant a new trial.” He had expected to go forward with sentencing Monday, he said.

Many members of the shooting victims’ families and Leigh had been waiting for nearly 2½ hours for the sentencing.

“There should not be a question as to what we are doing now. Him choosing to shave his head, we didn’t see that coming. We didn’t see this coming,” Nunn said. “Hopefully, it goes. Hopefully, because this is killing us. This is, you know, the working up to the court dates, all of it … it’s tiresome.”

Also on Monday, the prosecution dropped charges Luyster had faced for allegedly attempting to escape from the Clark County Jail on Feb. 12.