Family members sobbed and embraced, rallying around shooting survivor Breanne Leigh, after a Clark County jury found Brent Luyster guilty of triple aggravated murder Friday morning.
Luyster, 37, now faces a mandatory life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
He will be sentenced Dec. 4. Prosecutors will address his pending charges in an alleged attempted escape from the Clark County Jail at that time.
Danette Anderson, the mother of shooting victim Joseph LaMar, called out, “Praise Jesus!” as corrections deputies shackled Luyster to escort him from the courtroom.
“We can finally breathe after a year and a half,” LaMar’s sister, Abia Nunn, told media outside the courthouse. “Walking in was extremely stressful, because you don’t know what they are going to say. Hearing those words just felt like, just like someone took a tremendous weight off of our shoulders.”
Luyster remained largely stone-faced while listening to the guilty verdicts. But he turned to his attorney, smirking, as the jury left the courtroom, and flashed his mother a smile as he walked out.
The Superior Court jury reached its verdict shortly before 10 a.m., after deliberating for approximately 12 hours over the course of three days.
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.
The convictions stem from the July 15, 2016, shooting deaths of LaMar, 38; LaMar’s partner, Janell Renee Knight, 43; and Luyster’s best friend Zachary David Thompson, 36, at LaMar’s home southeast of Woodland. Thompson’s partner, Leigh, then 32, was shot in the face but escaped. She identified Luyster as the shooter.
Leigh hugged the prosecutors and lead detective on the case before walking out of the courtroom. She cheered and threw up her arms in the hallway, where she was met with more hugs. Family of Knight, LaMar and Thompson huddled close.
She said she was too overwhelmed to speak with media, but her reaction said it all.
Knight’s sister, Brenda Eyman, wiped away tears.
“It was just a relief, it was just an overwhelming relief,” she said of the verdict.
Anderson repeatedly called out, “Praise God! God is great!”
Nunn said she thinks daily about her brother and Thompson, whom she considered to be family.
“My brother was my best friend. I will never have a day that I don’t remember. But now I can breathe. Now I can go back to his grave and tell him, ‘It’s done,’” Nunn told media. “We can breathe now. We can move on with our lives now.”
Prosecutors presented dozens of witnesses and boxes of evidence as their case unfolded over the course of seven days. Key witnesses included Leigh and Luyster’s girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, who was previously convicted of rendering criminal assistance for picking up Luyster and driving him away from the scene.
She testified that Luyster was with LaMar and Thompson when she heard shots ring out. Luyster then got into her SUV, she said, and told her to “go!”
His then-12-year-old son, Brent Luyster Jr., was reportedly inside LaMar’s house during the shooting. Luyster Jr. refused to testify during the trial and had an emotional outburst in court.
Prosecutors argued that Luyster committed the murders because he was upset over federal agents piggybacking charges to a pending felony assault case in Cowlitz County and potentially going back into custody.
LaMar and Thompson had posted Luyster’s bail in the Cowlitz County case. Prosecutors argued that Luyster may have been concerned about his friends revoking it, in light of the federal case.
“We are very satisfied with the verdict. We believe the jury has returned justice for the victims in this case,” Deputy Prosecutor James Smith said in a phone interview after the verdict. “This case was investigated very thoroughly by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other agencies that assisted from the Regional Major Crimes Team. We, and I think the victims, are grateful for their work.
“We are very thankful that the victims’ families have justice and accountability for their losses,” he added.
Luyster’s defense team, attorneys Chuck Buckley and Steve Rucker, argued that the motives provided by the prosecution were pure speculation.
They also contended that there was little physical evidence that placed the weapon in Luyster’s hands, including the firearm itself — believed to be a .45 caliber 1911-style pistol that was never recovered.
And both defense attorneys called into question law enforcement’s investigation of the case, arguing that, from the beginning, officers wanted to pin the murders on Luyster. They said it’s possible an unidentified suspect committed the shootings shortly after Luyster left LaMar’s house that night.
Efforts to reach Buckley early Friday afternoon were unsuccessful. But Rucker, who assisted him, said they are “pleased that the jury took time and consideration of the very extensive amount of evidence in this case.”
Nunn told media that she believes the narrative prosecutors laid out and that Luyster committed the murders because of the federal case.
She still thinks he deserves the death penalty but said, “The justice system did their job, and they did it well this time.”