Prosecutor details murder case against Luyster

Jury hears opening statements in triple homicide trial

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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There are a few things in life you never forget: your wedding day, the birth of a child or “the face of a man who shoots you and tries to murder you,” Deputy Prosecutor James Smith told jurors Wednesday morning in his opening statement in one of Clark County’s most highly publicized cases in recent memory.

Brent Ward Luyster — a local man who has a long, violent criminal history — faces three counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the July 15, 2016, shooting deaths of Joseph Mark Lamar, 38; Lamar’s partner, Janell Renee Knight, 43; and Zachary David Thompson, 36, at Lamar’s home southeast of Woodland.

He is also accused of wounding Thompson’s partner, Breanne L.A. Leigh, then 32, who suffered a gunshot wound to the left side of her face.

Smith told the jury that Luyster knew all of the victims; they were friends.

On the day of the shooting, Luyster and his girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, went to a get-together at a house in Orchards. Smith described the event as kind of a last hurrah because Luyster was worried federal agents were on his trail in connection with a Cowlitz County case.

Luyster had been released on bail in a serious criminal case about a month prior and was under immense pressure, Smith said. He found out on the day of the alleged murders that he would likely be federally prosecuted.

A mix of anxiety, alcohol and access to a firearm led Luyster to kill three people, he said.

Smith recounted the events of that night, telling jurors that Thompson and Leigh arrived at the get-together in Vancouver. Luyster then said he wanted to go see Lamar, so they left to go to Lamar’s Woodland home.

Later, Sibley took their 2-year-old son and Luyster’s 12-year-old son with her to pick up Luyster at Lamar’s home.

After arriving at Lamar’s residence, Smith said, Sibley stayed outside with the 2-year-old while the 12-year-old, Leigh and the fourth shooting victim, Knight, went inside the home.

Luyster was outside the home talking with Lamar and Thompson about his concerns over federal agents coming after him, Smith said.

That is when Leigh heard shots fired outside, Smith added. He said Luyster then walked inside and shot Leigh in the left side of her face, then shot and killed Knight.

Smith detailed the harrowing tale of how Leigh escaped from the house, seeking help at the AM-PM Mini-Market at 1037 Lewis River Road in Woodland.

Leigh was left for dead, lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood, he said.

Her face was shattered by the bullet, and when she regained consciousness, she spit out a tooth. She had no idea that the father of her children, Thompson, was dead outside with their friend Lamar or that Knight was dead on the couch, Smith told the jury.

“What she does know and can never forget is the man who walked into the house and shot her,” he said.

Family members of Lamar, Knight and Thompson sitting in the gallery quietly cried as Smith laid out the scene.

He said that at one point, after staggering through the house to find her phone, Leigh lay down and wanted to go to sleep. But she thought about her two children at home, he said, and found the strength to crawl outside to her car and drive herself to the AM-PM for help.

Manhunt

After the shootings, Smith said, Luyster and Sibley took the boys home. They left the 12-year-old, whom Smith described as being “deeply traumatized” by the shooting, at a relative’s house and left town.

The next day, Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies located the couple and their son after a manhunt off Ocean Beach Highway west of Longview.

Smith said that when he was arrested, Luyster reportedly told deputies he planned to turn himself in and that Sibley had nothing to do with it.

In his brief opening statements, Luyster’s defense attorney, Steve Rucker, told the jury that the “witnesses and evidence will tell you an entirely different story.”

He said Leigh told first responders that she didn’t know who shot her and that she didn’t remember talking to law enforcement afterward.

Most everyone had been drinking that night, Rucker added, and said that Leigh also had a high level of alcohol in her system.

But above all else, he contends that law enforcement wanted to place Luyster and Sibley at the scene of the shooting and said officers from the get-go were out to get Luyster.

“There was a search for Luyster, not a search for the truth,” Rucker said.

Luyster’s trial is scheduled to take place on 15 days over the next four weeks. Jury deliberations could stretch it out further, however.