Friends and relatives of Kayley Jayde Leavitt filled the Sacramento courtroom with one thing on their mind: the release from custody of Steven Michael Lucas, the man accused of accidentally shooting her to death.
According to Kayley’s mother, they all showed up at Lucas’ arraignment in Superior Court on Monday knowing the only thing that mattered about the relationship between the victim and the defendant:
“They were totally in love with each other,” said Kayley’s mother, Nicki Leavitt. “They would come to me separately, and she would say, ‘I’m so lucky to have him,’ and Steve would tell me the same thing. It was like overwhelming, the way they felt for each other. Steve gave her more love in her life than most women will ever know.”
Lucas, 24, is facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the 12:06 a.m. New Year’s Day shooting death of Leavitt, 23. Sheriff’s officials said the two stepped out of their Callie Lane apartment in the Carmichael area to ring in the new year with a couple of blasts from a handgun. The young woman was fatally struck. She was pronounced dead that afternoon.
The show of support for Steven, including six letters written on his behalf from members of Kayley’s family, figured into Judge John P. Winn’s decision to order Lucas released from custody on his own recognizance. His bail had been set at $190,000.
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard did not oppose the bail reduction.
“The allegation is that this is a homicide without malice, a very low-level homicide of involuntary manslaughter, that he accidentally shot his significant other, and he is entitled to a trial on it to force the DA to prove the allegation,” Norgaard said in an interview. “I cannot speak for the family, only that they wanted their feelings represented to the court, and they very much unanimously asked that the defendant be released from custody.”
Supervising Assistant Public Defender Diane B. Howard, who is representing Lucas, said in an email, “What occurred on New Year’s Eve was extremely tragic for everyone and the result of a horrible accident. Steven, as with many, many others, is grieving Kayley’s loss every day and counts his blessings that he has the support of his family, her family and friends.”
Lucas is a house painter by trade and a tattoo artist whose work decorated his girlfriend’s body, according to her mother. Kayley worked for a while at Victoria’s Secret, but last year quit her job to attend to her father, who died from cancer in May.
She and Lucas grew up in the north area of Sacramento and met six years ago, when Kayley was 17 and Steven was 18, when he drove up to a friend’s house and she looked out the window and exclaimed, “I’ve got dibs on him,” Nicki Leavitt said.
Besides the tattooing arts, they also shared a love of cooking, Nicki Leavitt said, especially baked sweets such as carrot cakes and cupcakes.
Together, they had a 3-year-old daughter. Nicki Leavitt said the couple planned to get married and have a second child.
The letters from Kayley’s family expressed a level of empathy rarely demonstrated in the courthouse by the families of victims for the defendant in instances of violent deaths, even in cases where it is clearly an accident.
“I am Kayley Leavitt’s brother, and I feel that Steven is my family as much as she is,” wrote younger brother Matthew Keller, one of her five siblings. “Since he came into her life, her optimism, self-security and overall happiness has increased in ways that I feared it never would. Her bright and positive energy never died down for all the years that they were together.”
In writing “in support for Steven Lucas’ freedom,” Keller said, “The best thing by far that Kayley and Steven ever had happen to them is their daughter. No other person could raise her the way Kayley would have wanted, other than Steven. ... He’s the type of dad who’d not just buy toys for his daughter but play with her with every one of them.”
The little girl “will never see her mother,” Keller wrote. “She doesn’t deserve to lose her father in the time she needs him the most. The same goes for Steven as well. He lost his beloved girlfriend; he doesn’t deserve to lose his little muffin to the same tragedy.”
On the night of the accident, a cousin of Steven’s joined him and Kayley to celebrate the new year. Around 8 p.m., they put their daughter to bed, and at midnight, the two of them – both avid target shooters – stepped outside with a gun to fire off what sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa Bowman characterized as a few “celebratory” rounds.
Kayley and Steven had been drinking, her mother said.
Nicki Leavitt said nobody knows for sure exactly what happened, but that Kayley “may have grabbed him to give him a hug,” and stumbled into his discharge. “That’s the only way I can see this happening,” she said. “Steven does not know what happened. He just knows it happened. He had a gun and now Kayley’s dead.”
Steven Lucas has one prior criminal case in Sacramento County, a 2010 drunken driving incident to which he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years’ probation, according to Superior Court online records.
As conditions of Lucas’ release, the DA insisted that the defendant abstain from alcohol, surrender his firearms to authorities and that he can’t drive unless his vehicle contains a Breathalyzer device.
“He’s compliant with every one of them,” Nicki Leavitt said. “He has to get therapy immediately, and we’re looking into that. He never wants to drink again. He’s going to AA meetings. He doesn’t want to even look at a gun.”
If Lucas is convicted of voluntary manslaughter with use of the firearm, he faces a maximum term of 14 years in prison. Norgaard, the prosecutor, said Lucas also is eligible for probation, without any jail time.
“Our criminal justice system always takes into account the view of the victim’s surviving family members,” Norgaard said, “so a judge would take all those things into account, and that is only if he is found guilty or he admits to his guilt.”
Lucas’ next court date is scheduled for Tuesday.
“We just love him,” Nicki Leavitt said. “We love him like crazy.”