Judge: Homicide suspect not married at time of attack

Defense wanted to stop alleged accomplice from testifying at Luyster’s trial

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

Published:

 

Judge Robert Lewis on Thursday found that the alleged marriage of triple-homicide suspect Brent Luyster and his alleged accomplice, Andrea Sibley, was invalid at the time of the July 2016 fatal shooting, thwarting the defense’s attempt to keep Sibley from testifying against Luyster at trial.

The ruling was among about a half-dozen motions brought by Luyster’s defense team during an hourslong hearing, in which the attorneys and judge cruised through a number of issues in Clark County Superior Court.

Luyster’s defense team filed motions to suppress firearms found during a police canine search in Longview, suppress evidence found in a storage unit belonging to Sibley, prohibit Sibley from testifying against Luyster, amend a shackling order against Luyster and change the trial venue, among other routine, pretrial matters.

Prosecutors also raised concerns over former Clark County sheriff’s Detective Kevin Harper — a longtime major crimes detective who resigned from the sheriff’s office in February following allegations of misconduct — potentially being called to testify at trial by the defense. The issue may be re-addressed later, however, because the defense does not yet know if it will call Harper to testify.

Luyster’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 30, though jury selection may take the first part of the week.

On Thursday, his attorneys argued that prosecutors can’t call Sibley to testify against Luyster because of spousal immunity and said that the two were married in October 2013. However, the prosecution contended that the marriage, including a certificate filed with the Clark County Auditor’s Office in March, is fraudulent.

Defense attorney Chuck Buckley argued that Luyster and Sibley duly applied for the marriage certificate and believed they were married by an ordained minister.

But Deputy Prosecutor James Smith argued that the alleged marriage was the product of a coordinated effort to dupe the court.

Witness testimony

During the hearing, the prosecution called Frank Forbes, who allegedly performed the marriage, to testify on its validity.

Forbes is currently in custody at the Clark County Jail. He testified that he is an ordained minister but never performed Luyster and Sibley’s marriage and had never met the couple before. He said he was asked earlier this year to sign their marriage certificate.

But as the prosecution and defense continued to question him, Forbes gave conflicting answers about what he could remember and whether he’s actually an ordained minister. Forbes said he has memory loss due to a series of strokes he’s suffered.

Sibley was also called to testify. She said she met Luyster in November 2008, and they began dating off-and-on until they were married Oct. 5, 2013, during a small ceremony at Frenchman’s Bar. She didn’t tell her family about their marriage, she said, because they didn’t necessarily approve of Luyster. The couple shared a joint bank account and credit cards, she said, and she is listed as Luyster’s beneficiary.

She plans to divorce Luyster after his trial is over, she said. Sibley told Smith that she doesn’t want to testify at trial or be involved in Luyster’s case.

Next to testify was Luyster’s brother, Robert Luyster, who was allegedly a witness to the marriage. But he said he couldn’t remember the exact date of the couple’s marriage and couldn’t recall if he was asked to sign or to re-sign their marriage certificate.

Brent Luyster took the stand for the second time during the hearing and said he has photos of the ceremony and that they exchanged rings, though he rarely wore his because of work. He, too, couldn’t recall when he signed his marriage certificate but said he signed both the original and a duplicate. He couldn’t remember if he backdated the duplicate, he said.

A mutual friend of Forbes’ and of Robert Luyster’s longtime girlfriend, Jillian Laughter, presented a much different story, however.

Sheila Peterson testified that Laughter asked her about seven months ago if she knew anyone who is ordained. She put Laughter in contact with Forbes, and they later met up with him at a hotel in March or April. Laughter had allegedly told Peterson she was looking to help her brother-in-law and his girlfriend. Peterson said she wasn’t present during Forbes and Laughter’s meeting but that Laughter had brought a folder with her.

Smith also called Breanne L.A. Leigh, the lone survivor of the July 2016 shooting, to testify. She said that she’s known Brent Luyster and Sibley since mid-2012 and that the two only ever referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. She never saw Sibley wearing a wedding ring, she said, and the only reference made to them being married has been in relation to Luyster’s trial.

The final witness called to testify on the matter was sheriff’s Detective Fred Neiman Jr. He referenced court documents, jail logs and interview transcripts in which Sibley often referred to herself as Luyster’s girlfriend or friend.

Neiman testified that he also contacted Laughter earlier this month, and she allegedly denied being a witness to the marriage and didn’t recall signing the certificate.

He said he also contacted Forbes, who denied performing the marriage and didn’t recall signing the marriage certificate. Neiman additionally referenced a recorded jail phone call of Forbes speaking to a woman about doing someone a favor in connection to Luyster.

And Neiman said he learned that birth records for Sibley and Luyster’s child, born after their alleged marriage, don’t indicate they were married.

Based on the testimony presented, Lewis ruled that the evidence doesn’t support Luyster and Sibley were married at the time of the shooting so spousal immunity doesn’t apply. He said there is no doubt the couple applied for a marriage certificate in August 2013 and received the application. However, it’s unclear if the marriage occurred in the required time frame, and there’s no indication they filed the marriage application after it was issued until March 2017. The copy that was filed wasn’t the original.

Other motions

Lewis also denied the defense’s motions to suppress evidence and to move the trial to a different county. The defense had argued that local and national media coverage of Luyster and his case has been inflammatory and has potentially tainted the jury pool. Lewis said the motion can be re-addressed if the court in fact runs into issues during jury selection.

He additionally amended a shackling order against Luyster — he can be unshackled while meeting with his attorneys in the jail as long as he remains infraction free, infractions being threats, possessing weapons or displaying assaultive behavior.