EVERETT — Ryan Leenders collapsed and wept in the arms of his defense attorneys Thursday as the verdict in his murder trial was read aloud.
Not guilty of first-degree murder.
Not guilty of second-degree murder.
Not guilty of first-degree assault.
It took a jury of five women and seven men less than two days to acquit Leenders, 36, of all charges related to the deadly shooting of William Harper, 28, who was a guest at a party in 2020.
Leenders walked out of the courtroom a free man, two days before Christmas.
The jury sat through nearly four weeks of witness testimony this month in front of Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss. Leenders took the stand in his trial, testifying he thought Harper had a gun in his pocket. Leenders claimed self-defense.
Jurors accepted his story.
In her closing argument, defense attorney Samantha Sommerman said the angles at which bullets were shot supported Leenders’ self-defense claim. Bullet marks in the kitchen walls indicated Leenders was crouching and retreating when he opened fire.
“Why is he crouching down? To make himself a smaller target,” Sommerman told the courtroom, “and he’s retreating around that privacy wall because he’s expecting return fire. All of this is consistent with him firing in the belief that his own gun is being pointed at him in his house.”
Earlier that evening, Sunday, May 25, 2020, Harper and a friend went on a walk in south Everett, according to charging papers. They passed Leenders’ house at 210 East Beech St. Leenders, a stranger, saw the pair and invited them to join a party he was hosting.
Harper and his friend accepted the invitation. They had a few drinks and hung out.
Leenders invited Harper and his friend to join him in the hot tub.
Before Leenders got into the water, a couple at the party told police they saw the host pull out a gun that had been concealed the entire night. Leenders reportedly handed the Smith & Wesson pistol to one of the guests to “hold onto.” This made another guest uncomfortable, he reported, so the guest took the pistol and set it on a chair before he left the party.
Harper’s friend told detectives Leenders made unwanted sexual advances on her in the hot tub.
“Ryan makes a fool of himself, makes a pass at (the friend),” Sommerman told the jury. “He does, and she says no and he’s embarrassed.”
Leenders and his wife were swingers.
Harper and the friend got out of the tub, the charges say. Then they gathered their belongings.
As Harper and his friend got ready to leave, Leenders brandished a gun. Harper had a vape pen in his pocket, defense attorneys said, and it had about the same dimensions as a pistol. Leenders had looked for his pistol where he left it by the tub, not realizing a friend moved it. So he thought Harper took it, defense attorneys said.
During her closing argument, Sommerman held up the vape pen for the jury to see.
“It’s not like one of those tiny plastic JUULs that you see people using these days,” Sommerman said. “It’s not super light and flimsy. This is a large vape pen. It weighs like half a pound.”
The vape measured about 5½ inches — roughly as long as a Smith & Wesson pistol.
In the kitchen, Leenders demanded the pair’s belongings, according to charging papers. Harper reportedly stepped in front of his friend to protect her.
The party host opened fire. He shot Harper three times, the charges say. Harper died at the scene.
At the time of the shooting, Leenders was a machinist and a manager at Boeing. When he was arrested for investigation of first-degree murder, he was held in lieu of $2 million bail. He posted that amount early on and has remained out of custody for the past year.
The Everett man left the courthouse with his wife and other family.
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