Ruud chooses bench trial over jury

Rebecca Ruud

Theodosia-area resident Rebecca Ruud will stand trial for murder before 31st Circuit Judge Calvin Ray Holden rather than a jury of her peers on Jan. 27, 2020. The trial will be held in the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield. The trial was moved to Taney County on a change of venue motion, and Holden was appointed to the case in response to a change of judge motion. Court appearances have been held in Springfield for Holden’s convenience.

A second pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Jan. 13, 2020. 

The decision for a bench trial instead of a jury trail was made during a Nov. 27 pre-trial conference when Holden sustained a motion filed by Ruud’s attorney, Lauren Kate Welborn, for Ruud to waive her right to a jury trial. At that hearing, a motion to allow Ruud to wear civilian clothing without restraints rather than a jail uniform was also granted.

Ruud and her husband, Robert Peat Jr., were charged with the murder of Ruud’s biological daughter, Savannah Leckie, 16, after the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department found Savannah’s charred remains in a burn pile on Ruud’s farm in August 2017. Ruud had reported the teen missing on July 20, 2017. 

Savannah was born in 2001 in Minnesota to Ruud and Donald Pluff Jr. but grew up in Minnesota as the adopted daughter of Tamile Leckie-Montague and her husband, David Leckie. After the Leckies divorced in 2011, Tamile retained custody of Savannah and her siblings. 

In 2016, when Tamile and her children were living in Minnesota with another man, Carey Steeves, Tamile sent Savannah to Ozark County to live with Ruud, her biological mother, on Ruud’s off-the-grid farm near Theodosia. 

On Aug. 4, 2017, while authorities were executing one of multiple search warrants on Ruud’s farm, Ruud married Zanoni resident Robert Peat Jr. in Summersville. During the search of Ruud’s farm that day, bone fragments were found that forensic testing later indicated were Savannah’s remains.   

A grand jury indicted Ruud and Peat on Sept. 20, 2017. Each defendant faces charges of first-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse.

Both were granted change of venue and change of judge motions. Ruud has been held in the Taney County Jail since her arrest. Peat, originally arrested Sept. 21, 2017,  was released on his own recognizance July 5, 2018. He is scheduled to return to court for a pre-trial conference at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Greene County. The jury for Peat’s case will be chosen from that county. 


Judge under scrutiny

Holden, the judge in Ruud’s case, has been the center of several regional news headlines recently, defending himself against accusations from both the Greene County Prosecutor and a Springfield-area sexual abuse awareness group. 

According to a Sept. 4 Facebook post from the organization Me Too Springfield, the group began collecting signatures online at a 2019 Me Too Springfield Rally on Sept. 14, calling for Holden’s removal from the bench. 

The organization’s Facebook post says, “The decision was made in response to Holden’s well-known reputation for giving lenient sentences to those convicted of sexual crimes…. Me Too Springfield collected information from 15 of Holden’s sexual violence cases in the last 5 years, finding that over half of the rulings of such cases involved no prison time.”

According to the information on the Me Too Springfield website, five of the 15 cases resulted in probation only. In two of the cases, the defendants were found not guilty by Holden in a court trial. 

For more information about the 15 cases, visit Me Too Springfield’s Facebook page, scroll to the Sept. 4 post about Holden and click the link to the post.

According to a Springfield News-Leader story, Holden said he considers several factors before handing down a sentence in a sex-crime case, including the age of the victim, the age of the defendant and the extent or frequency of the crime. 

In a totally unrelated matter, Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson asked the Missouri Court of Appeals in March to stop Holden from running a domestic abuse court, which Holden started last year. 

According to the News-Leader, the Domestic Abuse Court was established with the goal of diverting domestic abusers from prison and guiding them toward rehabilitation.

But Patterson claimed Holden did not follow the necessary procedure to establish a treatment court under Missouri law, and, Patterson said, the judge has acted “in excess of his jurisdiction and authority” by sentencing defendants to the court program, holding meetings about the offenders with his Domestic Abuse Court Team and making decisions about criminal defendants outside of the presence of their attorneys.

The News-Leader reported in its Sept. 20 edition that the Court of Appeals had ruled that Holden “must permanently stop running his Domestic Abuse Court.”

Ozark County Times

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