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11.17.17 1:43 PM ET
A Washington neo-Nazi was found guilty Friday of murdering three buddies and shooting a fourth in the face, allegedly because he was angry over a possible FBI probe.
Brent Ward Luyster was accused of shooting his friends to death one night in July 2016, soon after he learned the feds were circling him on weapons charges stemming from a pending assault case on his former girlfriend.
The Clark County jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon and delivered the unanimous verdict Friday morning. Jurors found Luyster guilty on all charges: Three counts of first-degree aggravated murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, and first- and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
The 37-year-old faces life behind bars. A reporter for the Columbian described how a mother of one victim yelled, “Praise Jesus!” after the verdict.
On Thursday afternoon, Luyster appeared with a shaved head, sporting Nazi tats on his scalp and arms. After court adjourned for the day, he flipped the bird at a TV reporter as cops hauled him out in handcuffs.
Earlier in the week, Luyster’s hateful ink was covered and he had a full head of short gray hair, the Columbian revealed.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, Luyster’s best friend, Zachary David Thompson, 36, was killed in a shooting in Woodland, Washington, alongside Joseph Mark Lamar, 38, and his girlfriend, Janell Renee Knight, 43.
Thompson’s partner, 32-year-old Breanne Leigh, was shot in the face but survived. Her testimony was key to the prosecution’s case.
On Tuesday, Luyster took the stand and denied killing his friends. He claimed he didn’t know why Leigh fingered him as the shooter.
“I thought about it. I don’t know why,” Luyster testified.
The white supremacist—who, along with his brother, was on the Anti-Defamation League’s radar after cops arrested him for beating up a black man at a bar—teared up as he described reading the news and learning his pals were dead and that police named him as a suspect.
“It was a very surreal moment,” Luyster told the jury, according to a report by the Columbian. “It didn’t seem real.”
Cops didn’t recover the gun used in the attack. But they did retrieve shell casings, beer cans with Luyster’s fingerprints and a cigarette butt with his DNA, in addition to the bodies of the victims and the shattered glass of the getaway car, a gold 1998 Ford Explorer belonging to Luyster’s girlfriend, the Columbian reported.
Chuck Buckley, Luyster’s attorney, told jurors in closing arguments that prosecutors lacked a motive and the murder weapon.
“We don’t have the ‘why’ here. What we have is the lack of why,” Buckley said, according to the Columbian. Buckley questioned how Luyster—if he was as intoxicated as his girlfriend testified—could murder three people and get away without injuries himself.
But prosecutor Laurel Smith argued Luyster was on edge and had ample reason to lash out. The neo-Nazi feared going back to jail; he was possibly upset because his friends said they wanted to kill his ex, the victim in his pending assault case; and he may have suspected his friends were cooperating against him with police.
“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,” Smith said, according to the Columbian report.
Just two months before the bloodbath, Luyster was cuffed for pistol-whipping an ex-girlfriend and police found a .223 semiautomatic rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and .40-caliber Glock pistol at his rural Vancouver home, KATU reported.
The skinhead with swastika tattoos was enraged by the specter of federal gun charges and had been drinking before his pals were sprayed with bullets, witnesses testified during the nearly three-week trial.
According to Leigh, Thompson helped bail Luyster out of jail after the May assault on his former girlfriend. When Leigh balked over her beau’s decision, Thompson told her Luyster was family and would do the same, the Columbian reported.
Luyster and Thompson were like brothers, Leigh testified earlier this month.
The night of the murders, Leigh and Thompson met Luyster and his girlfriend, Andrea Sibley, at a Vancouver house party.
The mood was tense at the party, Leigh told the jury. Luyster was on edge and believed federal agents could arrest him at any moment. Thompson had wanted to spend time with Luyster that night, to see him before he was taken into custody, Leigh said.
Lamar wanted to see Luyster, too, so Thompson and Leigh drove Luyster to Lamar’s home. They left without Sibley.
During the ride over, Luyster allegedly asked for his firearm but Thompson said it could wait, the Columbian reported. (During his own testimony, Luyster denied this and claimed he didn’t have access to a gun.)
“You guys know I would never hurt you, right?” Leigh recalled Luyster telling them.
About an hour into the visit at Lamar’s, Sibley called Luyster to see where he was, then drove over to the residence with Luyster’s then 12-year-old son and their 2-year-old boy, Leigh testified, according to the Columbian.
Sibley stayed outside with the baby, but the 12-year-old came inside for some food, Leigh testified. (The teenager, Brent Luyster, Jr., was held in contempt last week after he refused to testify in the case. The boy’s mother testified that he was diagnosed with PTSD and has struggled since the shooting.)
According to Luyster, the men discussed his fears over the feds picking up his case, and about a friend who’d gotten beat up. Luyster testified that they also joked about rubbing out his ex-girlfriend, the victim in the Cowlitz County assault case.
Luyster claimed everyone was getting along that night. He claimed his family left the Lamar residence, went to his brother’s home in Woodland, then decided to go fishing in the middle of the night—an act he said was “extremely common” for him.
For her part, Sibley testified that the men were on the front porch and visibly intoxicated when she arrived. When Sibley asked Luyster if he was ready to leave, Lamar requested she give the men some time to talk.
Sibley says she returned to her car and played video games on her phone. When she looked up, she testified, the men were talking in the yard.
Gunfire suddenly shattered Sibley’s driver’s side window, she says, and as more shots rang out, Luyster shouted to Sibley to “go!” the Columbian reported.
Meanwhile, Leigh says she rushed to the doorway of the house when she heard the gunshots. Luyster walked in and fired a bullet into her face, she said.
“The look on his face will forever be ingrained in my brain,” Leigh told the jury, adding that Luyster appeared stoic and shot her “like it meant nothing.”
Leigh woke in a pool of blood, then crawled to her car. She pushed herself to drive for help because she couldn’t find her cellphone. She testified that she saw her partner, Thompson, lying dead outside before she fled.
The survivor eventually parked outside a minimart and flagged down a store clerk for help, before an off-duty nurse rendered aid, the Columbian reported. Leigh, unable to speak, communicated through hand gestures and writing on napkins.
When asked who shot her, Leigh wrote, “pretty sure Brent Luyster. He’s in big trouble. Fed,” a police affidavit said.
Leigh identified Luyster as the killer before doctors put her in a medically-induced coma, according to the Columbian. She woke two weeks later.
Sibley drove a belligerent Luyster home. Later, in the wee hours after the bloodshed, Sibley drove Luyster to his uncle’s Ocean Park residence.
The girlfriend testified that after a few hours, they left the uncle’s home and drove toward Longview, Washington. They headed to Abernathy Creek, and Luyster had sobered up, Sibley testified. “It was like he just didn’t know what happened, and he wanted to find out,” she testified.
Police nabbed the couple in the wildlife area under an hour later, Sibley testified. Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies found Sibley’s Ford Explorer at a rest area on Abernathy Creek Road, off Ocean Beach Highway.
In his own testimony, Luyster described hearing deputies shouting his name on a loudspeaker before they arrested him, the Columbian reported.
Sibley was charged with rendering criminal assistance days later but took a plea deal and was sentenced to time served and probation.
After news broke of Luyster’s arrest, his friends expressed their disbelief on social media.
“I can’t think of any reason that would cause him [Luyster] to turn on one of his best friends,” one associate wrote on Facebook. “Losing two of my closest brothers in one day, to such a fucked up way. I have to know.”
“They’ve been my brothers for about 14 years now, since before Zach skinned up, and this will haunt me forever,” the friend later added. “I can’t imagine what went through their mind.”
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