Prosecutors have dismissed a first-degree murder charge against a Seattle man jailed for over two years after falsely confessing to strangling his girlfriend, who died in a Central District stairwell from an apparent drug overdose, according to the man’s defense attorneys.
Leo Driver, who has a severe mental illness, was clearly in a “deluded state” when he went to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in May 2020 and confessed to killing his girlfriend, Elisabeth Wright, who was found dead over five years earlier, Driver’s defense attorneys, Amy Parker and Tracy Kolpa, said Friday.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Don Raz filed a motion to dismiss the murder charge July 20 after reviewing Driver’s statements to police and determining the state could not prove he killed Wright, court records show. Superior Court Chief Criminal Judge Karen Donohue dismissed Driver’s murder charge the next day and ordered his release from jail, the records say.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said in a statement that it was “unable to prove a homicide occurred to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and, as a result, we were legally and ethically bound to dismiss the charges.”
“It’s not your typical false confession case,” which usually result from coercion, said Parker, who noted it’s difficult for prosecutors to stop pursuing murder charges after they’ve been filed and commended Raz “for doing the right thing.”
Seattle police said Driver told detectives he took Wright into a stairwell, accused her of cheating on him, then strangled her, The Seattle Times reported at the time.
Parker said her client confessed to killing Wright namely because he thought a confession could stop bad things from happening to his family. His reasoning, Parker said, was “born out of psychosis” and “didn’t make any sense.”
Detectives, initially skeptical of Driver’s confession, were nearly ready to let him go pending further investigation before someone decided to call in Dr. Richard Harruff, the county’s chief medical examiner, Kolpa said.
Driver then demonstrated on a mannequin how he supposedly strangled Wright, his attorneys said. Harruff noted the autopsy report indicated Wright had bruises on her throat, leading him to change the report’s findings from an accidental overdose to homicide by strangulation, according to the attorneys and charging papers.
Once Driver was stabilized with medication in jail, he was able to tell his lawyers that he did not kill Wright, Parker said.
Earlier this month, Driver’s attorneys interviewed the doctor who performed Wright’s initial autopsy. She told them medics trying to save Wright caused the neck bruises, the attorneys said. The doctor found no signs of trauma associated with strangulation, according to the attorneys.
Parker said Driver beamed at her through the glass when she visited him in jail to tell him the state was dismissing the murder case — and gave her a big hug when they saw each other in court on July 21.
Parker and Kolpa found Driver a shelter bed at a facility that provides behavioral health services and structured meetings. He’ll stay there for 90 days as he re-connects with mental health services and providers that were helping him before he was jailed, the attorneys said.