A Pierce County woman was found not guilty of attempted murder against a former partner on May 23 after a two-week jury trial.
Steve Graham, attorney for Leah Eggleson, 22, argued that the charges against her resulted from actions of self defense. In court documents, prosecutors argued to exclude this defense and allegations of past abuse by her former partner.
The jury acquitted Eggleson of all charges except for unlawful possession of a firearm. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 10. Supporters hope that she will be released given the roughly 11 months she already served. The Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office refused to comment on the case while the trial is ongoing.
In an interview with Truthout, Eggleson spoke of her experience being mistreated in jail and punished by the criminal legal system for surviving what she claims was an abusive relationship. As a mother of two young children, she said that being separated from her kids during her time in jail was particularly hard.
“Both of my kids had their birthdays while I was in there,” she said to Truthout. “I spent my 21st birthday in there.”
Graham said that prosecutors don’t often respect survivors of violence and self-defense cases.
“Prosecutors across the state, across the nation ... don’t really understand the perspective of domestic violence survivor’s self-defense cases, and they often will look for the quote-unquote perfect victim,” he said.
Graham added prosecutors in this case tried to use Eggleson’s past against her, as happens to many survivors.
“But the jurors, I think, treated her right and understood that she wasn’t a perfect person, but that she acted as she was essentially forced to do when the system let her down,” Graham said.
The survivor advocacy organization Survived and Punished says that survivors of violence are often criminalized by the legal system when they act in self defense or are not seen as the perfect survivor. Oftentimes, Black, Brown and Indigenous women as well as trans and queer people are less likely to be believed by the legal system. Eggleson identifies as mixed-race.
According to the ACLU, 60 percent of people incarcerated in women’s prisons are survivors of violence or sexual abuse. This number is likely an undercount due to the stigma and retaliation survivors can face when they go public about their experiences.
As an abolitionist organization, Survived and Punished believes that the criminal legal system cannot adequately support survivors in their healing as well as hold accountable people who cause harm. Across the country, tens of thousands of incarcerated people report being sexually abused in prison and jail each year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The organization is part of a national network of community organizers who support criminalized survivors with participatory defense campaigns. To support Eggleson, her loved ones and community members came together to start the Liberate Leah Defense Campaign.
Community members helped raise funds to support Eggleson’s family, showed up to court to offer moral support and spread the word on social media about her case.
Graham said that the Northwest Community Bail Fund helped ensure Eggleson received a fair trial.
“The bail fund is responsible for Leah getting a fair trial. We couldn’t have done it without the bail fund,” he said.
“Preparing for court takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work. It can’t be done over some scratchy, garbled jail video connection. It can’t be done across 20-minute jail visits across plexiglass,” he said.
According to Cait, one of the members of the Liberate Leah Defense Campaign, “Community support is essential for criminalized survivors.” In an email, they wrote Graham’s representation and “community showing up to support Leah throughout the trial undoubtedly had an impact on the decision.”
Cait also said that they were sad that many survivors don’t get the same verdicts as Eggleson.
“It is also bittersweet knowing that so many other survivors have not and will not have the same outcome as Leah,” they wrote.
However, not everyone appreciated the community support for Eggleson. As the trial was set to begin on April 19, Judge Bryan Chushcoff revoked Eggleson’s bail and threatened community members with jury tampering, charges after some members of the defense campaign held a press conference and wrote messages in chalk outside the courthouse. However, the judge reversed the decision later and allowed Eggleson to be released again on bail partway through the trial.
On Instagram, the Liberate Leah Defense Campaign said Chuschoff’s action was a “blatant attempt to control supporters’ exercise of our 1st amendment right.”
Cait said that they hope Eggleson will find some healing after the past two difficult years.
“We would love to see Leah released on June 10 at her sentencing hearing so that she can be back with her children and be surrounded by her loved ones to begin healing from the trauma she has experienced, both at the hands of her abuser and the criminal punishment system,” they wrote.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the Jun 8-14, 2022 issue.