For more than five years, Elisabeth Wright’s death in the stairwell of an apartment building in Seattle’s Central District was attributed to an accidental overdose, according to King County prosecutors.
Seattle police say that all changed early Tuesday when Wright’s former boyfriend, 32-year-old Leo Driver, walked into the department’s East Precinct and confessed to strangling her to death, according to a first-degree murder charge that was rush-filed by prosecutors Wednesday. Driver was booked into the King County Jail on Tuesday morning and prosecutors are seeking to have him held in lieu of $1 million bail, court records show.
According to charging papers and court records, Driver does not have any prior felony convictions but has misdemeanor domestic-violence convictions for assault, property destruction, criminal trespass and violating court orders protecting his sister and their late mother. At least some of those cases were adjudicated in mental health court, the records show.
“The Defendant told the police in detail how he squeezed her neck with the purpose of cutting (off) her blood flow to her brain and then compressed her windpipe to make sure she was dead. The Defendant told police that he planned to murder Elisabeth before he led (her) into a stairwell to kill her,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Adrienne McCoy wrote in charging papers.
Wright was 30 years old at the time of her death, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
According to the charges:
The manager of an apartment building in the 1800 block of East Madison Street found Wright unconscious in a fourth-floor stairwell on March 11, 2015, and called 911. Medics attempted to revive Wright but she was declared dead at the scene. Wright’s cellphone was found in a nearby hallway, but she didn’t have a purse or identification on her.
A police officer on scene noticed Wright’s cellphone was still receiving text messages and when the officer texted back, Driver’s mother appeared in the stairwell. She told police Wright was her son’s girlfriend and Wright had stayed with her in her sixth-floor apartment. Driver’s mother had accused Wright of stealing her credit card and after that, Wright had frequently slept in a seventh-floor stairwell.
Driver’s mother told police Wright was a drug addict and had been at her apartment for 15 to 20 minutes earlier that day with her son. The two women had fought over the stolen credit card and Wright and Driver then left.
A postmortem exam by the medical examiner was performed and based on evidence available at the time, Wright’s death was ruled an accidental overdose, the charges say. As a result, Driver was never questioned about Wright’s death.
Then just after 12 a.m. Tuesday, police say Driver went to the East Precinct and confessed to killing Wright, a woman he had dated off and on for six years. Driver came to believe Wright was harming his family and during her fight with his mother, Driver “decided that if he killed Wright, it would help his family,” a Seattle police homicide detective wrote in the charges.
Police say Driver told detectives he took Wright into the stairwell, accused her of cheating on him, then stood over her and wrapped his hands around her neck as she sat on the stairs.
“He said he held her jugular to stop the blood flow to her brain. He said she passed out and he put his thumbs over her windpipe to cut off her air to make sure she was dead,” the detective wrote in the charges, adding Driver demonstrated his actions on a mannequin.
According to police, Driver said he tossed Wright’s cellphone into a hallway and threw her purse into some bushes.
The charges say Driver told detectives he suffers from a mental illness but was taking his medications and telling the truth about what happened.
“Driver said he decided to confess because his family was still suffering and he wanted peace,” the detective wrote.