Ruud’s 9th murder trial date now set for March 7, 2022, before Judge Holden
Rebecca Ruud is now set to stand trial March 7, 2022 for the 2017 alleged murder of her 16-year-old daughter Savannah Leckie and the disposal of the girl’s body in a burn pile on Ruud’s off-the-grid farm near Theodosia.
Ruud has requested a bench trial, which will be held before 31st Judicial Circuit Judge Calvin Holden. The trial will be held in Greene County, where Holden holds most of his proceedings.
The case, now four years old, has had a strange and difficult path forward with complications that have caused the setting and cancellation of eight trial dates so far. The most recent setting for March will be the ninth time the case has been scheduled for trial.
The case was transferred on a change-of-venue motion from Ozark County to Taney County early on in the proceedings, and Holden was assigned to the case.
Holden held a virtual meeting Monday with the prosecution team, which consists of Ozark County Prosecuting Attorney John Garrabrant and Assistant Attorney General Tony Brown, after the Missouri Supreme Court handed down a decision on a key piece of evidence. The evidence in question is a recording device that Ruud reportedly used while talking with two Missouri Public Defender employees about her then-expected charges. Ruud reportedly gave the recording to her co-defendant and husband Robert Peat Jr., who offered it to the prosecution team last year when he became a cooperating witness for the state.
Background on the case
The case began when Ruud called the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department on July 20, 2017, to report that her daughter had vanished in the middle of the night. Ruud reportedly said she’d seen Savannah when she went to sleep at 11 p.m. July 19, but the girl was gone when Ruud awoke at 8 a.m. the next morning.
Savannah had moved in with Ruud in August 2016, about a year before her disappearance. She had spent her first 15 years living in Minnesota with her adoptive mother and legal guardian, Tamile Leckie-Montague, before moving to Ruud’s off-the-grid farm in Longrun, near Theodosia. Tamile and her then-husband, David Leckie, were reportedly neighbors with Ruud’s mother in Minnesota when Savannah was born. The Leckies were experiencing fertility issues, and they adopted Savannah; later, they also adopted Ruud’s second daughter.
Tamile has said she and Ruud “co-parented” Savannah through the years, and when Savannah began having issues at home, the family decided it was best for the girl to move to Ozark County to live with Ruud.
In response to the report of the missing girl, dozens of first responders, law enforcement officers and volunteers searched for Savannah for several days. One local resident flew over the area in his private plane trying to find her.
As the search continued, Ruud and Peat became increasingly uncooperative and questioned officers’ motives, court documents say.
Peat reportedly told officers Ruud’s prescription of hydrocodone was missing, and he said Savannah had a history of suicide attempts. In response to that information, officers brought a dog trained to locate cadavers to the property to search for Savannah’s remains.
Then-Ozark County Associate Circuit Judge Cynthia MacPherson issued a search warrant on Ruud’s property for a specific search for Savannah or for human remains. Officers with the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol executed the search warrant Friday, Aug. 4, and the cadaver dogs were brought back in to aid in the search.
During that search, the dogs alerted to a burn pile in an area away from the primary residence. Officers sifted through the material, which included light-colored ashes, and took into evidence several items that appeared to be bone fragments and teeth.
Ruud posted on Facebook saying she was there while the officers executed the search warrant. After an officer told her she was not detained, she reportedly left the property.
It’s unclear when she left, but around 8 p.m. she commented on the post, saying she had left to seek legal assistance and was not home yet. A marriage license for Ruud and Peat Jr. filed in Howell County indicates they were married that same day.
Although in some instances, “spousal privilege” can protect spouses from being compelled to testify against each other, Missouri Revised Statute 546.260 says that in cases involving “an alleged victim under the age of eighteen, a spouse shall be a competent witness against a defendant spouse….”
Officers showed the collected material to forensic scientists, and all agreed that the items found were consistent with human remains. One expert said the bones had been burned at a very high temperature, and the deterioration of the items was advanced.
The bone fragments were determined to be human, from a female of small stature, around the age Savannah was at the time of her death.
On Sept. 20, 2017, an Ozark County grand jury indicted Ruud and Peat on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence in a felony. Ruud has been in custody since then, but Peat was released on his own recognizance in July 2018. Peat’s next court appearance isn’t scheduled yet and probably won’t be set until after Ruud’s trial.