Wirkkala’s girlfriend testifies in Bend murder trial

By Shelby R. King The Bulletin

The girlfriend of a man on trial for murder testified Tuesday in Deschutes County Circuit Court that she heard her boyfriend say, “I’m going to kill you,” just before he used a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun to fatally shoot a Bend man.

Luke Wirkkala, who moved to Bend in 2012, is accused of murder in the Feb. 4, 2013, shooting death of his houseguest, David Ryder. Ryder, 31, died nearly instantly from a single, close-range bullet wound to the neck, according to court testimony.

Wirkkala, 33, has admitted to shooting Ryder. Wirkkala’s attorney Walter Todd argued during opening statements last week the shooting was in self-defense because Ryder attempted to force Wirkkala to perform oral sex on him.

Wirkkala’s girlfriend, Rachel Rasmussen, 34, testified she was asleep the night of the shooting when she heard him come into the bedroom, saw him put on pajamas, retrieve and chamber a round in the shotgun, then punch a wall before he left the room.

“I heard him rack the gun (in the bedroom),” Rasmussen said. “I heard him cry and I’d never heard him cry before. I didn’t know what to think.”

Prosecuting attorney Mary Anderson pointed out that Rasmussen made several conflicting statements to police and detectives during the investigation into the shooting.

“Let’s cut to the truth, Ms. Rasmussen. At that point you hadn’t told the whole truth?” Anderson asked. “In this case did you lie to get Luke Wirkkala into trouble or out of trouble?”

Rasmussen later changed her statement and testified after prompting from Anderson, that when she saw what she thought was Wirkkala crouching to remove his pants, she now believes he likely was retrieving the gun.

Rasmussen testified she was “in a state of panic and (doesn’t) really remember” the events of the evening clearly.

“It was such a nightmare,” she said. “I felt like I was in a movie.”

Anderson also asked Rasmussen if she coached her then-11-year-old son and her then-16-year-old nephew, Cameron Crownover, on what they should say to investigators. Both children were in the home the night of Ryder’s death. Specifically, Anderson asked Rasmussen if she’d told the boys to whisper while the three of them were discussing the events of the night after being transported to the Bend Police Department and whether he told her son that he shouldn’t say anything about what he’d heard before the shooting. Jurors watched a video of the three in the interview room and heard Rasmussen making a shushing noise multiple times.

One of the first questions defense attorney Walter Todd asked Rasmussen on cross-examination is whether Anderson intimidated her. She said yes.

“Are you testifying voluntarily or were you subpoenaed by the state?” Todd asked. “Are you testifying under threat of prosecution?”

Anderson immediately objected to Todd’s question, calling it inappropriate and unethical. Judge Stephen Forte asked the jurors to leave the courtroom while the attorneys debated the admissibility of the question. Forte sided with the prosecution and told jurors when they re-entered the courtroom to ignore the question.

Other witnesses to take the stand Wednesday included Detective Robert Jones from the Bend Police Department and Shane Bessett, a forensics scientist with the Oregon State Police Crime Lab. Jones testified about interviews he conducted with Rasmussen, Crownover and the 11-year old in the hours and days after the shooting. Bessett testified to the level of intoxication of the two men.

Ryder’s blood-alcohol content was .23 percent at the time of the shooting. He also had evidence of cannabinoids in his system, indicating he had used marijuana, though Bessett said it would not be certain scientifically when he’d last used it.

Wirkkala’s blood-alcohol content 11 hours after the shooting was .08 percent. Bessett explained a scientific process called “retrograde extrapolation,” testifying that with this method it’s possible to make a close estimate at a person’s blood-alcohol content several hours prior to testing. He testified that Wirkkala’s blood-alcohol would have been high at the time of the shooting. He also testified that it’s impossible to scientifically determine a person’s level of impairment based on blood-alcohol content, saying that a person who is a heavy drinker can appear sober when their blood-alcohol content is high.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday afternoon. The trial continues today with Wirkkala testifying in the morning.

Wirkkala’s attorneys requested his ankle restraint be removed during his testimony to keep jurors from seeing it. Forte declined, citing the nature of the charges. He said Wirkkala could either choose to wear the ankle restraint or a stun belt. A stun belt is a device worn around the waist, under the shirt, that can be used to remotely deliver an electric shock if the wearer acts violent.

Forte told jurors they would “work diligently” today and may hear testimony until a little after 5 p.m.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, sking@bendbulletin.com