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News / Clark County News

Key witness in Luyster trial describes night of shooting, being shot in face

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: November 1, 2017, 6:51pm

About a month before Zachary Thompson and two others were allegedly shot to death by Brent Luyster — his best friend — Thompson helped to bail Luyster out of the Cowlitz County Jail, Thompson’s partner and the sole shooting survivor, Breanne L.A. Leigh, testified Wednesday afternoon.

Leigh didn’t want Thompson to help secure Luyster’s release, she said, but Thompson reportedly told her that Luyster, 37, is family and would do the same for him. Thompson paid at least $2,400 and offered up his car title, as well as his grandmother’s car title, Leigh said.

An emotional Leigh looked directly at Luyster as she described Thompson’s loyalty to him; they were like brothers, she said.

Luyster was arrested in May 2016 for allegedly assaulting his former girlfriend, Erin Cochran, in Cowlitz County. Leigh said that Luyster feared federal agents were after him in connection with that case and would pick him up at anytime.

On the night of July 15, 2016, Leigh and Thompson went out for a date night. But they ended up meeting up with Luyster, his children and his girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, at a house party in Vancouver.

Thompson had reportedly told Leigh that federal agents could be coming for Luyster, so he wanted to spend time with him.

The couple stayed at the house for about two hours, Leigh testified, during which time they socialized and drank beer with friends.

Leigh described the mood as “awkward” — things appeared to be normal but there was a “lingering tension” about the federal case. It was a hot topic of the night, she said.

Thompson and Luyster’s friend, Joseph Lamar, called and said he, too, wanted to see Luyster before he’s taken into custody, so Thompson and Leigh drove Luyster to Lamar’s Woodland home.

On the way there, Luyster asked Thompson for his firearm, Leigh said. Thompson reportedly told Luyster not right now. Leigh said she never saw a firearm.

Luyster also mentioned how he wished that Thompson and Leigh’s oldest daughter, whom he was fond of, was with them. “And then in the same breath he said, “You guys know I would never hurt you, right?” Leigh said, crying.

At the time, she didn’t find his statement odd but said hindsight is 20/20.

After they arrived at Lamar’s — where Janell Knight, his girlfriend, also stayed — Luyster, Thompson and Lamar reportedly talked about killing Cochran. Leigh said they weren’t serious, however.

And then about an hour later, Sibley called to find out where Luyster had gone. She subsequently arrived at Lamar’s house with Luyster’s 12-year-old son and the couple’s 2-year-old son, Leigh testified. She said Sibley stayed outside with the younger boy and that she brought the 12-year-old inside for a bite to eat.

Leigh then heard gunshots. She ran to the door to tell the men to stop, but Luyster walked in and shot her in the face, she said.

“The look on his face will forever be ingrained in my brain,” a tearful Leigh said. It was a look of indifference.

She said it all happened so fast.

Luyster raised a black handgun from his side, Leigh said, and as she opened her mouth to speak, he shot her in the left side of the face, “like it meant nothing.”

Leigh woke up some time later in a puddle of blood. She said she was barely breathing because she had blood, bone, teeth and bullet lodged in her throat. She saw Knight lying dead on the couch.

Leigh staggered through the house looking for her cellphone to call for help. But she couldn’t find it.

At one point, she lay down in the bathroom and prepared to die, she said. But while lying there, she thought about her two young daughters, she said. “I didn’t want them not to have a mom,” Leigh testified.

Leigh started to slap her hand on the base of the toilet, she said, to motivate herself to get up. And she did.

She eventually decided that she needed to drive to find help, after she still couldn’t find her phone. She half-walked and crawled to her car outside. She said that part is hazy because she tries to block out the image of Thompson lying dead outside.

Leigh said that as she drove to the AM-PM Mini-Market, 1037 Lewis River Road in Woodland, for help, she passed Sibley’s vehicle parked on the side of the road. She sped off quicker.

“I’m just grateful they didn’t see me and then finish the job,” Leigh later said on cross-examination.

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After arriving at the AM-PM, Leigh said, she parked and tilted her bloody face out the car window. She waved down the store clerk, and then an off-duty nurse ran over to help.

Leigh said she tried her best to answer people’s questions, but she could barely speak. She made hand gestures and, at one point, started writing answers on a tissue box or napkin, she said.

But one thing she made clear: Luyster shot her.

First responders took her to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. She was put in a medically induced coma and life-flighted to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland. She woke up about two weeks later, she said.

Leigh said she’s still missing her teeth on the left side of her face. Doctors had to take bone from her hip for her face, and her mouth was wired shut. She still has not fully recovered, she said.

Leigh will take the stand again this morning so the defense can finish cross-examination.