SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A judge found Rebecca Ruud, the mother from Ozark County who was accused in her teenage daughter’s death, not guilty on all charges against her except one.
Greene County Judge Calvin Holden heard the case in a bench trial during the last week of June, meaning there was no jury. The trial happened in Greene County because a venue change was granted.
Ruud was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, tampering with evidence and abandonment of a corpse. She was found not guilty on all charges except the abandonment of a corpse charge. She will be sentenced only for that charge on September.
Ruud reported her 16-year-old daughter Savannah Leckie missing on July 20, 2017. The teen’s remains were later discovered burned on Ruud`s property near Theodosia.
Prosecutors centered their case on witnesses who testified they were in jail with Ruud and that she said she said she drugged and killed her daughter. The attorneys defending Ruud conceded that she burned Leckie’s body, which she admitted on a recording, but Ruud’s lawyers said Leckie was already dead and argued there was no evidence Leckie was murdered.
Ruud’s husband, Robert Peat Jr., testified on the second day of the trial. Peat currently faces the same charges as Ruud. Peat testified Rebecca never told him that she burned Savannah’s body or did anything with it.
Tamile Montague, the adoptive mother of Savannah Leckie, said the teen was temporarily sent to stay with Ruud with the intention of getting her behavior on track after experiencing some issues at Montague’s home. Savannah didn’t express difficulty with living with Ruud, Montague said.
The prosecution called three inmate witnesses who they said were in prison at one point with Rebecca Ruud. Some witnesses testified they would talk with Ruud and she said she drugged her daughter by crushing up pills and putting them in Kool-Aid.
The defense argued that the testimony some of these inmates shared was different than a written statement they previously provided.
Ruud did not take the stand in her own defense.
Closing arguments came on the fourth day of Ruud’s trial. Prosecutors once again worked to convince Judge Holden that Ruud drugged Leckie before burning her body.
“‘How do we know the defendant killed Savannah?’ Defendant destroyed the body,” Prosecuting Attorney Tony Brown said. “There was barely anything left of Savannah Leckie. Enough to fit in a bag.”
However, Ruud’s defense team argued Leckie killed herself, and then Ruud burned her body. They stated Leckie had experienced mental health struggles and said the inmates who testified Ruud drugged her daughter were not credible.
“The state can absolutely prove that [Rebecca] burned Savannah’s body, but that is all they can prove,” Ruud’s public defender Lauren Welborn said. “They presented no credible evidence of anything related to a murder.”
Robert Peat Jr. will be in court again in mid-August.