Luyster denies killing three in shooting near Woodland

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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Brent Luyster shed tears as he recalled seeing a news report in the early morning hours of July 16, 2016, stating that his best friend and two others were fatally shot and a fourth person was wounded the night before. The report named Luyster as the shooting suspect.

“It was a very surreal moment. I didn’t, it didn’t seem real,” he testified Tuesday morning.

Luyster, 37, took the stand in Clark County Superior Court to deny shooting and killing his best friend Zachary David Thompson, 36; his friend Joseph Mark LaMar, 38; and LaMar’s partner, Janell Renee Knight, 43, on July 15, 2016, at LaMar’s home southeast of Woodland.

Thompson’s partner, Breanne Leigh, then 32, was wounded but escaped. She testified earlier in Luyster’s triple aggravated murder trial that he was the shooter.

When asked by his defense attorney if he shot Thompson, LaMar, Knight and Leigh, Luyster said, “I did not.”

He added that he doesn’t know why Leigh would say he shot her. “I don’t (know why),” he said. “I thought about it. I don’t know why.”

The firearm used in the shooting was never recovered, but prosecutors believe it was a .45 caliber 1911-style Kimber handgun.

Night of the shooting

On the afternoon of July 15, 2016, Luyster, his girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, and his two sons went to his cousin’s house in Vancouver, because a friend of his had been assaulted, he said. While at the house, he told people about his attorney telling him that he may be facing federal charges stemming from a criminal case in Cowlitz County.

He said that Thompson and Leigh joined the group that evening, and the three of them left before dark to go to LaMar’s house. Knight was also at LaMar’s residence.

Leigh testified that while en route to LaMar’s, Luyster asked Thompson for his firearm. Thompson reportedly told Luyster not right now. Leigh said she never saw a firearm.

Luyster denied asking Thompson for a firearm and said he didn’t have access to one.

At LaMar’s, the men discussed Luyster’s concerns over federal agents potentially picking up his case, he said, and their friend being beaten up.

They also talked about his former girlfriend, who’s the alleged victim in the Cowlitz County case, he said. In the past, people have cracked crude jokes about making her disappear, but Luyster said no one was serious.

Luyster said Thompson and LaMar helped put up his bail in his Cowlitz County case. He said they didn’t discuss that the night of the shooting, and he doesn’t think his bail would have been revoked because of the federal case.

None of the men were angry with each other — everyone was getting along, he said. And there was no conversation about them taking back his bail.

Sibley and Luyster’s two sons came to LaMar’s as it was getting dark, and Luyster left with them. He denied hearing gunfire before leaving LaMar’s house and said his older son, Brent Luyster Jr., was not scared or shaking, like Sibley had testified last week.

An emotional Luyster Jr. refused to testify and was held in contempt for several days.

Sibley also testified that the driver’s-side window of her SUV shattered after she heard gunfire at LaMar’s house. Luyster testified that the window broke the day before.

Luyster said his family went back to his brother’s house in Woodland, where they were staying. He drank a couple more beers, and his brother arrived home about 10:30 p.m. and left again with Luyster Jr.

Afterward, Luyster said he decided to go fishing and added that it is “extremely common” for him to fish in the middle of the night.

Sibley drove him and their young son to the Ocean Park area, because he was too intoxicated to drive — he estimated he drank about 10 beers that night. He also testified that his drinking “was an issue of contention” in his relationship with Sibley.

He denied telling Sibley to leave her cellphone behind and said they stopped at his uncle’s house for a visit.

Found fishing

Luyster said he fell asleep in his uncle’s recliner and was later awakened by him to watch a news report. The report said his friends had been shot, and he was the suspect.

A tearful Luyster said he roused Sibley and told her they needed to head back to Woodland.

Judge Robert Lewis offered Luyster a tissue as he testified, but Luyster said he was all right.

Luyster continued and said that he wanted to go to the Woodland Police Department, but Sibley was shaken up and tired so they stopped that afternoon at Abernathy Creek off of Ocean Beach Highway west of Longview.

He began fishing, and they had a picnic. Not long after, he heard a loudspeaker and Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies calling his name. The couple and their son walked toward them. Luyster said he wasn’t surprised they were there because of the news report, but he was scared.

“I was frightened when I saw it on the news. I was frightened all day,” he testified on cross-examination.

He followed the deputies’ commands and was placed under arrest. Luyster said that a deputy pointed his weapon at Sibley and their son so he told them she didn’t do anything and was unarmed.

Law enforcement officers testified that when they encountered Luyster, he said he planned to turn himself in and that Sibley had nothing to do with the shootings.

And a detective told the jury that Luyster tried to wash off his hands with a cup of water in an interview room. Luyster denied that.

On Nov. 1, Leigh provided eyewitness testimony of the shooting, describing how she had heard gunshots outside LaMar’s home. Moments later, Luyster came into the house, pointed a gun at her face and shot her, she said. She later awoke, got in her car and drove to a nearby mini market where an off-duty nurse rendered aid. She was later transported to a hospital.

The defense rested its case Tuesday afternoon, after calling four witnesses in addition to Luyster.

Prosecutors are expected to call rebuttal witnesses Wednesday morning. It’s possible the attorneys could get to closing arguments later Wednesday.