Security was tight Tuesday morning as triple-murder suspect Brent Luyster was escorted to the fifth floor of the Clark County Courthouse to face new allegations in an attempted jail escape.
Vancouver police officers stood guard outside the courtroom door, keeping the room sealed at times. Another dozen corrections deputies and officers crowded inside.
Luyster — a 35-year-old known white supremacist who has been in custody since July for allegedly fatally shooting three people and injuring a fourth at a Woodland home — appeared in Superior Court on suspicion of being a prisoner in possession of a weapon, first-degree malicious mischief and attempted second-degree escape.
He is accused of trying to escape from the Clark County Jail on Sunday night through a broken window in his cell. The attempt was reportedly interrupted by a corrections deputy.
Luyster was already scheduled to be in court Tuesday to be arraigned on three counts of aggravated first-degree murder with the use of a firearm, attempted first-degree murder with the use of a firearm, and first- and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. However, the hearing was pushed back to March 6, when he will also be arraigned in the attempted escape case. He is being held without bail.
A charge of aggravated murder carries the possibility of the death penalty. The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has not yet decided if it will pursue capital punishment, in spite of Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on executions while he’s in office.
“Can I represent myself pro se on these new matters?” Luyster asked Judge Robert Lewis, despite being appointed his current defense attorney on the new case.
Lewis said Luyster’s request to serve as his own attorney in connection with the alleged attempted escape can be addressed at a later date because he has not yet been formally charged.
His capital defense attorney, Bob Yoseph, said after the hearing that he doesn’t know why Luyster wants to represent himself in the attempted escape case. “That came out of the blue,” he said.
Court records state that a corrections deputy was conducting a routine perimeter check of the jail shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday when he noticed a broken exterior window of a cell. The window corresponded with the jail’s A pod, where Luyster is housed. He is the only inmate in that cell, and jail staff was concerned he may have used the 8-by-6-inch hole in the window to bring in weapons.
Deputies placed the jail on lockdown, and on-duty members of the SWAT team, as well as patrol deputies and Vancouver police officers, responded to the jail, 707 W. 13th St.
The extra officers helped to detain the four inmates inside that pod. All of the inmates were removed and strip-searched, and Luyster was escorted to a different cell. A metal ball bearing, believed to be missing from an anti-suicide towel holder, fell from Luyster’s person during the search, according to an affidavit of probable cause in support of the new allegations.
Detectives with the major crimes unit were called to the jail shortly before 11:30 p.m. to investigate the alleged attempted escape. Officers searched the four cells in that area and found a modified comb, which appeared to be used as a key to unlock the screen on Luyster’s cell window. A deputy opened the screen and found a file folder covering the hole, which would have allowed access to a walkway about 20 feet below, the affidavit states.
The window is secured by vertical and horizontal cross beams, in addition to the locked screen. However, it appeared one of the bars was recently cut and was in the process of being removed. If removed, the opening would have been large enough for someone to fit through, court records said.
Screws were removed from the interior of the window screen frame, and a metal piece was ground down creating sharp points that could be used as a weapon. Officers also found a cord with a weighted end long enough to reach the ground from the window, according to court documents.
Officers said no items thought to be brought in from outside the jail were found inside the cell.
Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop said Tuesday that he cannot comment about any potential changes at the jail, in light of the alleged attempted escape. The investigation is early and ongoing, he said.
Deputy Prosecutor James Smith would not say whether anyone outside the jail was involved in the incident, citing the ongoing investigation.
During his hearing, Luyster also asked for access to the law library to prepare for his upcoming assault trial in Cowlitz County. In that case, he is accused of pistol-whipping his former girlfriend. Smith said afterward that it’s unlikely Luyster will be transported to Cowlitz County until his cases here are resolved.
“This case is extremely important,” Smith said. “We are doing our best to ensure justice.”