Savannah Leckie murder: Jury trials set for Rebecca Ruud and Robert Peat Jr.
Reprinted with permission from the Springfield News-Leader with local details added by the Times staff.
A judge set trial dates Friday, Jan. 12, for the husband and wife accused of killing a 16-year-old autistic girl and burning her body this summer in Ozark County.
Rebecca Ruud, 39, and Robert Peat Jr., 31, made their first court appearances in Greene County on Friday in front of Judge Calvin Holden.
Ruud and Peat have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the July killing of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie in Ozark County.
Friday’s hearings were held in Springfield because Greene County Judge Calvin Holden has been appointed to both cases.
Ruud was Savannah’s biological mother, but the girl lived with an adopted family in Minnesota until about a year before her death, when she moved to Theodosia to live with Ruud.
Ruud and Peat were married days after Savannah was reported missing.
On Friday, the husband and wife appeared together in court with their attorneys, but they will have separate trials.
Peat’s trial was set for July 30. It will be held at either the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield or the Taney County Courthouse in Forsyth, but the jury will be brought in from Cole County.
Ruud’s trial was set for August 27. The plan is for Ruud’s trial to be held at the Taney County Courthouse with a jury picked from Taney County.
An Ozark County grand jury indicted Ruud and Peat in September on five felony charges.
As is common with grand jury indictments, the publicly available court documents do not provide many details about the murder allegations, only that the couple is accused of causing Savannah’s death “by unknown means.”
The indictments appear to lay out two possible paths for prosecutors to secure convictions against Ruud and Peat. The first is the first-degree murder charge, and the second is a charge of felony murder which alleges that the couple abused the girl and that led to her death.
Ruud and Peat are also facing charges of tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse.
While the indictment does not provide many details about the investigation, prosecutors charged Ruud with murder a month before the indictment, and the probable cause statement in that case describes the evidence against her.
The probable cause statement says Savannah was reported missing on July 20, two days after a fire on Ruud’s property.
Ruud initially told investigators Savannah blamed herself for the fire and must have run away, according to the statement.
On Aug. 4, the statement says, investigators scoured the farm and found charred bone fragments in a brush pile on Ruud’s property.
The bones belonged to Savannah, according to the sheriff’s office in Ozark County.
During the course of the investigation, the statement says, the sheriff’s office uncovered some abuse Savannah suffered at the hands of Ruud, like having alcohol and salt rubbed in her wounds and being forced to roll around in a pigpen and bathe in a muddy pond.
The sheriff’s office also found text messages from Ruud to Savannah’s adopted mother in which Ruud said: “It’s to the point that I either need more help to care for her, or I can do nothing with her.”
Court records indicate Ruud and Peat drove to Howell County and got married on the day the bones were discovered.
The sheriff’s office says Ruud was arrested at the Greyhound bus station in Springfield on Aug. 21. Peat was arrested Sept. 20 after the grand jury indictments were issued.