A teenager who stabbed to death another teen during a fight last year was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder.
Lola Luna, 17, was taken into custody after the Kitsap County Superior Court jury’s verdict was read.
In convicting Luna of murder, jurors rejected her contention that she was defending herself when she stabbed 16-year-old Syanna Puryear-Tucker 24 times during a fight in Luna’s front yard on Jan. 30, 2021. Video taken by Luna’s boyfriend of the fight showed Luna holding an open knife behind her back when Puryear-Tucker threw the first punch. The two girls exchanged blows, with Puryear-Tucker punching and Luna stabbing.
Luna, who had been out of custody and on house arrest on $100,000 bail, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 30, two years to the day since Puryear-Tucker was killed. Judge Bill Houser ordered her held without bail. She did not appear to react when the verdict was read.
The jury of 12 white men took about a day to reach their verdict – half a day Monday and half a day Tuesday.
Sheryl Tucker, Puryear-Tucker’s mother, said she was disappointed that jurors exonerated Luna of first-degree murder but said she was satisfied with the verdict and happy that the trial was over.
“I feel like we can sleep a little bit better,” Tucker said.
She thanked jurors for their work, knowing that it was hard on them.
“I’m satisfied that they didn’t let her go,” Tucker said. “There was always that possibility, but that they actually took her right then and there. That made me feel a lot better.”
After sentencing, Tucker said she expects her loved ones will be able to grieve the way they have needed to grieve.
Further, Tucker was exploring the possibility of pushing for a law to prevent people from filming crimes and not intervening.
“This is not OK to stand by and videotape any kind of crime,” Tucker said. “It’s not OK.”
Jurors found Luna not guilty of first-degree murder, the most serious count, but convicted her on two different types of second-degree murder. Prosecutors will vacate one of the counts prior to sentencing.
The Zoom feed showing the verdict maxed out at 500 and spectators packed the courtroom where the jury was delivered. Twice Houser admonished spectators to control their emotions, and when somebody called after Luna as officers led her away, Houser said: “Anyone want to admit to just saying that? I didn’t think so.”
Luna was tried as an adult and turns 18 this month. If she receives a sentence keeping her in custody beyond her 25th birthday she will begin serving her time with the state’s juvenile justice authority until she turns 25. After that, she would be transferred to the state Department of Corrections prisons for the remainder of her sentence.
The maximum sentence Luna will face is 18 years, but jurors found that Luna committed the murder with a deadly weapon, which will add two years to her sentence.
Barbara Dennis, the lead prosecutor on the case, said the jury did the right thing and that it was fitting that Luna would be sentenced on the two-year anniversary of Puryear-Tucker's death.
"It's not over yet, but it's nice to have this portion behind us," Dennis said. "I think it's a huge relief for the family of Syanna and a huge blessing for them."
Dennis said the verdict sends a message that when using force in self-defense, it has to be proportional to the threat.
"Don't bring a gun to a fist fight, don't bring a knife to a fist fight, that's not fair," she said.
Luna’s attorney, John Kannin, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict, saying the government has the upper hand in criminal trials and defendants are on an unequal playing field. He was grateful jurors acquitted Luna of first-degree murder but said the finding does not bode well for people in Kitsap County who try to defend themselves from violence.
“I would be afraid,” Kannin said of living in Kitsap County. “I think that’s taking away people's right to defend themselves in their own home, and that’s what this jury verdict means.”
Luna has a right to appeal the verdict, but Kannin said he did not yet know if she would. He praised Luna’s strength and said she felt bad that Puryear-Tucker died.
“Lola is a strong little girl, she understands what this verdict means, she is certainly disappointed,” Kannin said, adding that she testified because she wanted jurors to know what she was thinking in the moment and told the truth. “She is remorseful, she didn’t want to kill anybody. She’s not a killer, she’s a cheerleader.”
In their final pitch to jurors, prosecutors said that for some, fights are a part of growing up, but even when making those “dumb choices there are still rules.” Fear of losing a fight, especially in front of one’s social media followers, is not the same as fear of being killed.
“When you walk away with bumps and bruises and your opponent, who was unarmed, walked away with 24 stab wounds and dies, that’s no longer a fight, that’s a murder,” Deputy Prosecutor Joe Lombardi said.
Arguing that Luna had no choice but to defend herself, Kannin told jurors that prosecutors should have never filed charges against Luna. Further, saying police and prosecutors were blaming the survivor when Puryear-Tucker’s choices caused her own death, Kannin called the state's case a classic example of gaslighting.
“They are trying to get you to believe something is true when it really isn’t true,” Kannin said, emphasizing that Puryear-Tucker hit Luna in the head 33 times. “If (Luna) didn’t do what she did, she could be in some assisted living facility sucking soup out of a straw.”
The testimony highlighted the conflicts between the teenage girls, who didn’t know each other personally save for social media, but whose disagreements ended up in real-life fights and extreme violence.
It also showed the delay in getting a critically-injured Puryear-Tucker to adequate medical attention, which required she be flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Instead, the friend that drove Puryear-Tucker and her newborn baby to fight Luna drove her to the old St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton, which was in the process of shutting down and moving to Silverdale.
Testimony found the conflict between the two girls started over the summer when Luna beat up another girl at the Kitsap Mall. Puryear-Tucker had that girl contact Luna and challenge her to another fight so that Puryear-Tucker could instead go to Luna’s house to fight. Luna expected the other girl to show up for a rematch but instead was confronted by Puryear-Tucker.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Lola Luna guilty of murder in stabbing death of Syanna Puryear-Tucker