Supreme Court rules recording can be used in Ruud murder trial

Rebecca Ruud

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that a taped audio recording made by Theodosia resident Rebecca Ruud, who is charged with murdering her 16-year-old daughter Savannah Leckie in 2017 and disposing of the girl’s body, is admissible as evidence.

The decision was announced in a Nov. 9 press release from the court that says:

“…Rudd’s recorded conversation with the public defender’s staff  members constitutes privileged attorney-client communication. Rudd was represented by the  public defender’s office at the time of the meeting and, although the staff members were not  attorneys, the privilege extends to communications between clients and necessary agents of the  attorney. The fact that Rudd recorded the conversation did not affect the confidential nature of  the meeting because she had no reason to believe the conversation was anything but private. . . .

“Rudd waived the attorney-client privilege, however, by voluntarily disclosing the recording  to her co-defendant and husband, Robert Peat Jr., a third party. The record reflects that Rudd consciously gave the unsealed box and all of its contents to Peat to store before the trip with no indication she intended the box’s contents to  remain private or secret. Handing over the recording in this manner constituted a voluntary disclosure of the information to a third party, thereby waiving any privilege.”

The prosecution team traveled to Jefferson City Sept. 29 to argue the issue before the Missouri Supreme Court that the recording should be allowed.

Missouri Public Defenders Kate Welborn and Yvette Renee Duvall argued against using the recording on behalf of Circuit Judge Craig Holden, who is assigned to the case. Holden was not at the Supreme Court hearing. 


 The recording

The recording in question reportedly includes what is believed to be a conversation between Ruud and Missouri Public Defender investigator Nina Lane and legal assistant Kathy Holder. Ruud is said to have secretly taped the discussion she had with the investigator at an in-person meeting on Aug. 11, 2017. Former reports and court documents filed in the case previously have mentioned that the recording was made of a phone interview, but the defense team clarified the issue during their argument at the most recent Supreme Court hearing. 

It’s unclear what, exactly, the conversation reveals, but Peat allegedly told officials he had listened to part of the recording, and in it, he said, Ruud reportedly admits to some of the allegations against her. 


Peat’s ‘proffer of testimony’ inquiry

Peat’s attorney, James Hayes, a private, Springfield-based lawyer who has been contracted to work on behalf of the Missouri Public Defender’s Office, reportedly contacted the prosecution in December 2019.

During that conversation, a court document says, Hayes inquired about the possibility of Peat offering a “proffer of testimony,” which is generally made as a prelude to cooperation, when a defendant under investigation or charged with a crime wants to offer information to law enforcement authorities in exchange for some benefit, such as a dropped or reduced charge or agreement for lower sentence. 

In January 2020, Hayes and Peat met with Garrabrant and an Ozark County Sheriff’s deputy at the prosecutor’s office in Gainesville. Upon arrival, Hayes told Garrabrant that, based on the nature of what Peat intended to disclose, Hayes had an ethical issue to address it. He reportedly asked to reschedule the proffer for a later date.

Hayes and Peat returned to the prosecutor’s office on Jan. 24, the documents say. Garrabrant was not present in the room when the proffer was made. Instead, the proffer was video- and audio-recorded. A copy of those recordings was provided to Ruud’s attorney on Jan. 31.


A box of miscellaneous things to ‘put up’

Former Ozark County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Winston Collins interviewed Peat at the prosecutor’s office during the meeting. Peat reportedly told the officer he had recently discovered a digital audio recorder that Ruud had given him before the couple “left to go truck driving,” referring to Ruud and Peat’s plans to leave Ozark County to pursue truck-driving careers just before their arrest in 2017. 

Peat said the recorder was in a box of miscellaneous items Ruud had given Peat to “put up,” and the box was given to him while the couple were married. Peat and Ruud were married Aug. 4, 2017, the same day officers reportedly found human remains in a burn pile on Ruud’s farm. The remains were later determined to be those of a human with a small stature consistent with a teen about Savannah’s age.

Peat reportedly told the officer that the box remained undisturbed in a bedroom at his parents’ house until November or December 2019, two and a half years after Ruud gave it to him. He said he was unaware that the recording was inside the box. 

Peat said he activated the recorder and listened to at least part of a saved recording on the device, and the recording appeared to be part of a conversation between Ruud and an attorney or attorney’s staff member. He said as soon as he discovered the conversation, he immediately contacted his attorney.


Surrendering the recorder

Collins asked Peat to surrender the recorder to him, and Peat did so in the presence of his attorney. It remains in the possession of the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, the statement says. Collins and former Ozark County Deputy Cpl. Curtis Dobbs have listened to the recording, documents filed with the Supreme Court indicate. 

The recorded conversation occurred before the public defender represented Ruud, and the conversation was recorded without the knowledge or permission of Lane or Holder, the document says.

The digital audio recorder has reportedly remained in OCSD possession since it was surrendered and has not been copied to any other medium. No investigative reports, written or oral, have been prepared regarding its contents, other than what was related by Peat in his proffer. 

No attorney for the prosecution has listened to the record, the document says.


Background on the case

The case began when Ruud reportedly 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 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 any sign of 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. 

Ozark County Times

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