A Bend man’s claim he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed a guest in his home in February 2013 proved unpersuasive Wednesday, as Deschutes County Circuit Judge Stephen Forte issued a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for Luke Anton Wirkkala.
Wirkkala, 33, was convicted in June of shooting and killing David Ryder, 31, at Wirkkala’s southeast Bend home in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2013. The two men and Wirkkala’s live-in girlfriend — whom he married later while being held at the Deschutes County jail — had spent much of the day before drinking together at a local bar on Super Bowl Sunday.
Wirkkala killed Ryder with a single shot to the neck from a 12-gauge shotgun at close range.
On Wednesday, Wirkkala’s attorneys said he shot Ryder in self-defense, describing scratches on Wirkkala’s neck and bits of Wirkkala’s skin found under Ryder’s fingernails. During the June trial, defense attorney Walter Todd said Ryder was taller than Wirkkala and outweighed him by nearly 50 pounds, and argued Ryder was attempting to force Wirkkala to perform oral sex on him in the minutes before the shooting.
In a statement to the court, Wirkkala maintained his innocence. “I felt remorse from the second this happened, and every moment since,” he said. “That being said, I believe every human being has the right to self-defense. I was attacked in my own home.”
Ryder worked at G5 Search Marketing in Bend as a software engineer. He was married, with a 2-year-old son.
Ryder’s father, also named David Ryder, addressed the court by phone from Kentucky. He described Wirkkala as a “vile human being” with “no regard for human life.”
“I hope every night he closes his eyes, he pictures what happened that night,” the elder Ryder said.
During the trial, prosecutors said the scratches on Wirkkala’s neck did not suggest the two men had engaged in a physical struggle, and that DNA evidence suggested sexual contact between them had been more than “incidental,” as described by Wirkkala. Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Anderson told jurors Wirkkala may have been angry that Ryder had rejected his sexual advances, or because Ryder was considering moving out of the area.
Jurors agreed, convicting Wirkkala following five hours of deliberation.
Before announcing Wirkkala’s sentence, Forte told the court that despite the assertions of the defense team, the jury unanimously rejected the self-defense argument during the trial. Defense attorneys maintained that a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years would be disproportionate and suggested Forte issue a life sentence with the possibility of parole in five to 10 years.
Under Oregon law, life with the possibility of parole is the presumptive sentence for first-degree murder. A “true life” sentence with no possibility of parole can be given in cases of aggravated murder.
Forte told Wirkkala his own statements during the trial indicated he hesitated before retrieving his shotgun from the bedroom, and described the shooting as “no accident.” Forte said if not for the ready availability of the shotgun and the two men’s heavy drinking leading up to the shooting — Wirkkala’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.08 percent 11 hours after the shooting, and an autopsy put Ryder’s BAC at 0.23 percent at the time of his death — the entire episode might have been avoided.
“The combination of alcohol and a gun is never, never a good thing,” Forte said.
Wirkkala will remain at the Deschutes County jail until he is transferred into the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections.
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, firstname.lastname@example.org