Missouri woman acquitted of murder in teen daughter’s death

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A judge on Friday acquitted a southwestern Missouri woman on murder and two other felony charges in the death of the autistic teenage daughter that she gave up for adoption as a baby.

Greene County Circuit Court Judge Calvin Holden found Rebecca Ruud not guilty of first- and second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and felony abuse or neglect of a child but found her guilty on the remaining charge, illegally abandoning a corpse. The charges stemmed from the July 2017 death of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, whose remains were found in a burn pit on Ruud’s remote property near the Arkansas-Missouri border.

Ruud is scheduled to be sentenced on the last charge Sept. 15 by Holden, who heard the case instead of a jury in Springfield after a change of venue from Ozark County to the southwest. Ruud could get up to four years in prison.

Prosecutors described Savannah as the victim of severe abuse after she left her adoptive family in Minnesota and moved to Missouri to be with her biological mother. Ruud said the girl disappeared after running away because she blamed herself for starting a fire on the family’s property.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office declined to comment about the judge’s decision. A public defender representing Ruud did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Ruud lived outside Theodosia, a village about 250 people roughly 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Branson, a popular vacation destination. According to a probable cause statement filed along with the charges against Ruud in 2017, the girl’s adoptive mother asked Ruud to take her because Savannah did not get along with her adoptive mother’s fiancé.

Authorities said that after the girl moved to Missouri, she was home-schooled and had “almost no social contacts.”

Ruud reported Savannah missing two days after the fire on the family’s remote property, authorities said. Several searches turned up human teeth, a meat grinder, a knife and 26 bottles of lye, which can be used to accelerate the breakdown of bodily tissue, according to court documents. Human bone fragments were found in a field about 400 yards (365 meters) from Ruud’s home, about two weeks after Savannah’s reported disappearance.

An ex-boyfriend of Ruud’s told investigators that he had seen her discipline Savannah by forcing the teen to crawl through a hog pen and making her bathe in a pond, authorities said. Ruud acknowledged that this was true and told investigators that when Savannah cut her arm “in a suicidal gesture,” she forced the girl to scrub the wound daily with alcohol and salt as punishment.

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