Prosecuting attorney Taryn Jones gives the state’s opening statement to start the trial of Ryan Leenders for first-degree murder Friday morning at the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Prosecuting attorney Taryn Jones gives the state’s opening statement to start the trial of Ryan Leenders for first-degree murder Friday morning at the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Trial opens for Everett man charged with killing party guest

A defense attorney claimed Ryan Leenders mistook a vape pen for a gun when he shot William Harper, who was not armed.

EVERETT — A Boeing worker feared for his life when he shot a party guest to death on Memorial Day weekend in 2020, a defense attorney said in court Friday.

A Snohomish County Superior Court jury will decide if Ryan Leenders, 36, of Everett, is guilty of first-degree murder for the 2020 death of William Harper, 28. Leenders was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in June 2020.

Defense attorney Peter Mazzone argued Leenders was frightened when an object he thought was a gun fell out of Harper’s pocket. It was a vape pen.

“You’ll hear testimony with no doubt whatsoever,” Mazzone told the jury Friday in his opening statement. “That vape has the exact same dimensions as the barrel of a gun.”

Harper had accepted a random invitation to join a neighborhood party on Sunday, May 25, 2020, at Leender’s house. It would be the last day of Harper’s life.

Earlier that evening, Harper ran into a neighbor outside his Everett home when she was smoking a cigarette. The pair chatted and decided to hang out. They went on a walk to Walgreens around 9 p.m., deputy prosecutor Taryn Jones said in her opening statement.

They bought Jim Beam Honey Bourbon Whiskey, a couple A&W Root Beers and a pack of smokes.

On their way back from the store, the pair passed through a neighborhood in the 6500 block of Beverly Lane. Leenders was drinking with a few friends at his home on 210 East Beech St. Leenders, a stranger, saw the pair pass by and invited them to join the party.

The group hung out and had a few drinks, according to the charges.

That day, Harper’s friend was wearing a black T-shirt with a metallic pineapple on it, Mazzone told the jury. The attorney said that is the “international symbol for the swinging lifestyle,” though it was possible the friend wasn’t aware of the coded meaning.

Harper and his friend got in a hot tub with Leenders. The friend told detectives that Leenders made unwanted sexual advances on the pair.

Leenders and his wife were swingers, Mazzone said in court.

Ryan Leenders on trial for first degree murder. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Ryan Leenders on trial for first degree murder. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Another couple at the party reported Leenders also made unwanted advances toward them and had invited them into the tub, too. They declined. Before Leenders got into the water, the couple reported seeing him pull out a gun that had been concealed the entire night. Leenders handed it to the other man’s wife to “hold onto.” Her husband reported this made him uncomfortable, so he took the gun and placed it on a chair. Then they left.

When Harper and his friend got out of the tub to leave, Leenders brandished a gun in the kitchen, according to the charges. He demanded the pair’s belongings. Harper reportedly stepped in front of his friend to protect her.

The pair raised their hands.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa man, chill,” Harper reportedly said.

Leenders opened fire. He shot Harper three times, the charges say. Harper died at the scene.

Prosecutors noted neither Harper nor his friend were armed at the time of the shooting.

Neighbors heard screams and called 911. Leenders also called 911, the charges say, to report there had been a shooting at his house. When police arrived at the scene, Leenders was “emotionless, neither distraught or crying,” detectives wrote. He was taken into custody without further incident.

He was arrested and booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of first-degree murder. Leenders posted $1 million bond in June 2020. He was released on the conditions that he not possess any guns, and he was also banned from consuming alcohol or drugs.

At the time of the shooting, Leenders was a machinist and a manager at Boeing.

The Everett man was out of custody this week.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486;; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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