Six choices led to six shots, three lives taken and a fourth altered forever, and a ripple effect that impacted a whole community.
This was the narrative prosecutors wove for jurors during closing arguments Wednesday in Brent Luyster’s triple aggravated murder trial in Clark County Superior Court.
The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon after hearing about eight days of testimony. Deliberation resumes this morning.
Luyster, 37, is accused of fatally shooting his best friend, Zachary David Thompson, 36; friend, Joseph Mark LaMar, 38; and LaMar’s partner, Janell Renee Knight, 43, at LaMar’s home southeast of Woodland. Thompson’s partner, Breanne Leigh, then 32, was wounded but escaped. She identified Luyster as the shooter.
Luyster denies shooting any of them.
“On July 15, 2016, the defendant made six choices that cannot be taken back. He pulled that trigger six times, firing six shots. With those six shots, he took three lives and tried to take a fourth. With those six shots, he caused irreversible harm to the people closest to him,” Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Smith told the jury.
Luyster also left some things behind, Smith said, including shell casings, bullet wounds, beer cans with his fingerprints, a cigarette butt with his DNA, shattered auto glass from his alleged getaway vehicle and the bodies of his friends.
“And he left a memory seared in (Leigh’s) mind — a memory that she cannot get rid of, the look of his face when he shot her,” Smith said.
However, Luyster’s defense attorney, Chuck Buckley, argued there was much lacking in the prosecution’s case; for starters, motive and the firearm used in the shootings.
He also called into question law enforcement’s investigation of the case and said that, from the beginning, they wanted to pin the alleged murders on Luyster.
Investigators handpicked what items to collect as evidence and submit for testing, Buckley argued. And nothing that belonged to Luyster yielded blood from the victims.
“They didn’t look for any other suspect. They didn’t look for any other evidence that would in any way incriminate anybody else,” Buckley argued. “It was a rush to judgment on the part of law enforcement. There is no doubt about that.”
Buckley said it’s possible someone else could have gone to LaMar’s house after Luyster left and committed the shootings.
The prosecution rested its case on eyewitness testimony from Leigh, whose memory of the events of that night were inconsistent, he said.
Deputy Prosecutor James Smith argued that it’s preposterous to believe a mystery person committed the shootings and didn’t leave a trace.
He said Leigh remembered many details from the night of the shooting, which were corroborated by physical evidence and other witnesses.
“Not once has she wavered in her identification of the man who shot her, not once. Not on the stand and not when she met with (a detective),” he said.
James Smith also argued that it’s not required of the prosecution to prove a motive, though prosecutors offered a few.
Luyster was upset about federal agents picking up a pending criminal case in Cowlitz County and potentially going back into custody, Laurel Smith said. He was upset, maybe, because there was talk among his friends about killing his former girlfriend, the victim in the pending case. She argued maybe Luyster was concerned Thompson and LaMar, who posted his bail, would revoke it. Maybe he thought his friends were informing on him, she said.
“Now, we can’t know the defendant’s thought process. But we do know that he was stressed, that he was unhappy, that he was concerned, and we know that he was drinking,” Laurel Smith said.
Buckley argued that all of those scenarios are pure speculation and don’t make sense.
“We don’t have the ‘why’ here. What we have is the lack of why,” he said.
But what the case does have is a significant amount of confusion, he added.
Luyster’s girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, testified that Luyster was intoxicated and belligerent. And Luyster estimated that he had consumed about 10 beers that night.
Buckley questioned how someone so intoxicated could shoot and kill three people and get away unscathed, particularly when one of the victims, Thompson, was also armed.
Sibley had also testified that she was afraid and didn’t like to be around Luyster when he was intoxicated, and yet her actions showed otherwise, Buckley said. Sibley drove Luyster home and then to his uncle’s house in Ocean Park in the middle of the night. She decided to pull over the next day to rest at Abernathy Creek off of Ocean Beach Highway, at which time Luyster was apprehended by Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies.
James Smith argued that the defense can pick apart Sibley’s testimony, but they can’t explain it away. Her testimony, along with Leigh’s and Luyster’s, places him at the scene of the shootings. And the timeline of events — corroborated by cellphone records and the time law enforcement was dispatched, as well as travel times — also placed him there at the time of the alleged murders, he said.
It’s no coincidence that Luyster had access to a .45 caliber pistol, the same believed to be used in the shootings, James Smith said. Investigators found packaging for the firearm in a storage unit Luyster shared with Sibley. It was also no coincidence that Luyster fled to the coast after the shootings, he said.
Buckley argued that if Luyster was fleeing, it doesn’t make sense that he was found while heading back to Woodland.
The prosecution urged jurors to find the alleged murders were premeditated. They argued that Luyster made the conscious decision to first shoot LaMar and could have stopped there, but he continued and shot the others. Prosecutors also asked the jury to find aggravating circumstances that could allow for a life sentence if Luyster is convicted of first-degree murder.