Opening statements in triple murder trial offer more insight int - KPTV - FOX 12

Opening statements in triple murder trial offer more insight into gruesome Woodland shooting

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Clark County prosecutors and defense attorneys laid out their opening statements Wednesday morning in the high-profile murder trial of a man accused of killing three of his friends and nearly killing another.

Brent Luyster wore a gray shirt and was led into court in chains by several deputies as several more stood outside the courtroom.

Senior Deputy District Attorney James Smith spoke to the jury for nearly 30 minutes, making it clear that the surviving victim, Breanne Leigh, would be the state’s strongest evidence against the man with a lengthy criminal history and a swath of Nazi tattoos.

As far as a motive for the shooting, prosecutors didn’t expand beyond saying Luyster was under an enormous amount of “pressure” at the time of the murders because he believed he was about to be federally prosecuted in a pending case in another county.

Smith said Luyster was talking about that case with his friends Joseph Lamar and Zachary Thompson before the shots were fired back in July of 2016 at Lamar’s home.

The defense team addressed the court for fewer than ten minutes, telling jurors Leigh’s first accounts of the shooting indicated that she didn’t know who shot her, and stressing no physical evidence from the crimes was ever found on Luyster’s clothing or shoes.

The murder investigation began in July of 2016 when Leigh showed up to a Woodland convenience store with a gunshot wound to her face.

Smith outline a harrowing account of her survival: telling jurors she passed out several times in several locations around the house before she finally thought about her children and willed herself to get into her car and drive for help.

Responding officers later found three people dead at a property a few miles away off 417th Street.

Janell Knight was found inside the home, and Lamar and Thompson were found outside with gunshot wounds to their heads.

Authorities had previously described the victims as people Luyster knew, but during opening statements, prosecutors and defense lawyers both described the group as friends.

Prosecutors said Luyster’s girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, who last year pleaded guilty to first-degree rendering of criminal assistance, was also there that night, as well as his 12-year-old son.

Smith described the boy as “traumatized” by the experience.

Luyster was later arrested in Longview and charged with three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon.

Prosecutors also attempted to explain why no physical evidence of the shooting was found on the clothing and shoes Luyster wore that night, telling jurors that after the shooting, Luyster went back to the Woodland home where he was staying and had even driven 100 miles to the coast before he was arrested.

Smith the lapse between the shooting and the arrest left plenty of time to clean up. 

In addition to bringing up the lack of physical evidence in the case, defense attorneys also alluded to emails between investigators and crime lab technicians, saying that through the course of the investigation, detectives were asking the scientists to try to find certain types of DNA evidence, and even asking them what types of items they should submit to find it.

Luyster’s lawyer said Leigh’s first recollections of the shooting indicated that she told first responders that she didn’t know who shot her, and later in the hospital told investigators that she didn’t recall her first interactions with law enforcement.

More than 15 friends and family members of the victims sat in the front rows of the courtroom, including the aunt of Thompson, who told FOX 12 she has been to nearly every hearing along the way.

“This is the first step to the end,” Tess Strickland said, adding she is still confused as to why her nephew was shot. “I would like to look him in the eye and say, ‘Why? What was the motivating factor there that made you make the decision to do something like that?’ I thought they were all friends.”

Strickland said she didn’t want Thompson’s life to be defined by the shooting or his friendship with Luyster. She described Thompson as a family man who cared deeply about those close to him and was funny.

Strickland said her nephew and Leigh have a daughter that just celebrated her fourth birthday Tuesday and another little girl who will turn three in December.

She said Thompson was engaged to Leigh and called Leigh “the strongest person” she knows, adding that she is doing okay despite a very difficult year.

Leigh and Sibley are both expected to testify during the trial.

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