(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend attorney on precedent)
Gasps, tears from family; only two of 12 jurors had voted to find him guilty
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) – After three weeks of testimony and six hours of deliberations, a Deschutes County jury on Monday acquitted Luke Wirkkala, the Bend man earlier convicted of murder but retried on appeal in the 2013 fatal shooting of houseguest David Ryder at his home, a killing he steadfastly claimed was in self-defense.
Wirkkala, now 40, won the right to a new trial when the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the jury in the first trial should not have heard a police interview beyond the point where he invoked his right to request an attorney.
Family members in the audience gasped and wept quietly when the verdict was read just after 2 p.m. Monday.
When the seven-man, five-woman jury was polled by Deschutes County Circuit Judge Randy Miller, two of the 12 members had voted to convict Wirkkala on all charges, including the lesser possible charges of first- or second-degree manslaughter. All 12 would have had to agree on a guilty verdict, but only 10 votes were needed to render a verdict of not guilty.
After the last "not guilty" verdict was read, Wirkkala's two defense attorneys each gave him a hug.
"Mr. Wirkkala, you are free to go," Judge Miller said. Wirkkala then bowed slightly and put his hands together. He was released from jail later Monday
The trial was held in a large meeting room at the county fairgrounds in Redmond, set up last year to provide needed social distancing for such trials, due to COVID-19. The Oregon Department of Justice prosecuted the case after District Attorney John Hummel’s office declared a conflict of interest due to disturbing letters sent to the office by a family member of Wirkkala.
Wirkkala’s defense attorneys said he had acted not just in self-defense, but in defense of his home and family, when Ryder refused to leave his home.
But prosecutors argued that Wirkkala had to go this room, arm himself with a shotgun and then return to shoot Ryder. They also said the sex was consensual.
NewsChannel 21 spoke after the acquittal with Attorney Shawn Kollie of Kollie Law Group in Bend to gain an outside perspective of the defense team's argument.
"So in this case, if Ryder entered this dwelling or remained in the dwelling, committed a sexual assault or an act against Luke, that's a crime," Kollie said. "He's in a dwelling, check, check -- we hit the elements necessary to allow deadly force."
Kollie says Wirkkala's actions are justified as self-defense, but it's not technically, under Oregon law.
A total of 37 states are "stand your ground" states, 29 by statutes providing "that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present."
The remaining eight of the 37 "stand your ground" have case law or precedent that apply, including Oregon.
The precedent comes from an Oregon Supreme Court case, State v. Sandoval (2007) which stated, "A person is justified in using physical force upon another person to defend himself from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force. In defending, a person may only use that degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary."
Kollie says this case can be used to help interpret law in Oregon.
"In may not be in the laws, it may not be in the statutes, but it's how the courts interpret and applies the law," Kollie said. "It can be just as powerful, and just as helpful for us."
Kollie says he believes justice prevailed in the end.
"I believe very strongly that our system is not perfect, but it's the best system we've got in the world," he said.
The jurors had asked Miller for clarification on several points. Miller noted, for example, that under Oregon law, you don’t have to explore options for retreat, if you or others are threatened in your home.
Members of Wirkkala’s family staged several courthouse protests and created a "Free Luke Wirkkala" Facebook page in the months leading up to the trial, supporting his claim that he feared for his life and the safety of other family members in the home after Ryder sexually assaulted him, both men heavily intoxicated from a night of Super Bowl partying.
The masks worn in the courtroom hid some aspects of emotion in reactions to the jury’s verdict, but Wirkkala, escorted out by bailiffs, nodded quietly to family members in the audience.
Wirkkala's family members did not wish to speak on camera, but told NewsChannel 21 the acquittal restored a little of the faith they had lost in the justice system.