May 22, 2008 in City

Victim’s estate in court’s hands

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 

A Spokane man gunned down in his home in the the night, just seconds after his teenage son left.

His estranged wife – once an online prostitute with the moniker Nikita Jennifer – charged with the slaying, accused by police of planning the crime and traveling from her California home with her new boyfriend to carry it out. And her friends on the defensive, writing letters to the judge commending her character and seeking to bolster her contention that the shooting was in self-defense by launching a Web site alleging years of abuse by her husband, including forced prostitution and extortion.

This story of sex, money and murder is set to play out in Spokane County Superior Court when Shellye Lynn Stark’s first-degree murder trail begins in September.

But first, a judge will decide who will get Dale Robert Stark’s estate; his wife is listed as primary beneficiary.

“The thing has just mushroomed,” said Melvin Champagne, Stark’s attorney in the civil case. “It’s really fun from a practitioner’s point of view, because it’s very unusual.”

A hearing is scheduled this morning in front of Spokane Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark.

Spokane attorney Joseph Delay, appointed last month by the court to serve as interim administrator of Dale Stark’s estate, opposes any attempt by Stark to access her dead husband’s assets. Delay declined an interview but cites in court papers the state’s slayer statute as his reason for keeping Stark away from the estate.

“The broad purpose of the statute is to prevent a person from profiting from their own wrong,” according to a document filed May 20 by Delay.

Stark initially wanted to serve as administrator of her husband’s estate, but later she proposed appointing her son, Christopher. “We think the son, who has a vested interest in the estate, is going to be more capable and more interested in doing what is best,” Champagne said of Stark’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Stark’s criminal defense lawyer, Russell Bradshaw, is recommending that his client stay out of the civil proceedings until her criminal case is completed.

“I would strongly advise my client not to testify at any such proceeding prior to a resolution of the criminal matter based upon her rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Bradshaw wrote.

The legal saga began in December when Stark was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of her husband of more than 20 years. Court documents suggest that the marriage was falling apart.

In a request for a restraining order against Dale Stark filed in Superior Court days before his death, Shellye Stark wrote of years of beatings by her husband and detailed threatening voice mails he’d allegedly left for her in the days before his death.

“Dale is currently harassing me by blackmail, coercion and extortion for money,” she wrote. “He is contacting friends and loved ones, telling them about my life, both fact and fiction, as a means of getting money from me.”

Shellye Stark moved to California last fall, according to court records, and was back in Spokane with her boyfriend, Brian Moore, whom she met through message boards for online prostitutes and their would-be customers, to obtain custody of her son, then 17.

The restraining order was issued two days before Dale Stark’s killing.

Shellye Stark’s nephew, 22-year-old Dale Johnson, told detectives he served Dale Stark the restraining order about 1 a.m. Dec. 9 at the couple’s Maple Street home but Stark refused to leave, according to court papers. With that, Shellye Stark told Johnson and her son to leave the home “because she didn’t want them to get hurt.”

“Christopher Stark said he ran out the front door and within two to five seconds, heard between three and six gunshots as he descended the concrete steps in front of the residence,” according to the arrest papers. Christopher Stark told detectives his mother had warned she may need to use a gun “to protect herself” and asked him if he “had a problem with that,” according to court papers.

According to court papers, Johnson had picked up a .357 revolver for Shellye Stark from her sister at Deaconess Medical Center, who was hospitalized after her car struck a moose while police say she was driving to Spokane from her Priest River home to give Shellye the gun.

Investigators said in court documents that Dale Stark was unarmed and noted that Shellye Stark could have asked for police to serve the restraining order. Detective Tim Madsen wrote that he believes “Shellye Stark planned and carried out the murder of Dale Stark.”

In e-mails included in the couple’s divorce case, filed in early fall 2007, Dale Stark asks his wife for child support payments. In a statement supporting Shellye Starke’s request for a restraining order, her boyfriend, Moore, outlined recent death threats from Dale Stark and wrote he was confident Dale Stark could have fulfilled them.

In a recent phone interview from California, Moore maintained Shellye Stark is innocent.

“She’s a good person,” he said. “You look at what you guys printed about her and it’s heinous, like she’s the village whore or whatever. To me, she’s a schoolteacher.”

Stark did earn her teaching certificate in Washington. And she and Moore appear to be prominent people in the online prostitution community.

Crime blogs and message boards dedicated to online prostitution are rife with rumors of Stark’s case and Moore’s involvement, but none of the bloggers contacted would speak on the record.

“This whole thing has been very unfortunate for alot of the people around them … we are all really here just to have some fun,” reads one e-mail sent to The Spokesman-Review from an administrator for the Web site outoftheashes.org. “If I had one wish I think it would be that this had never happened.”


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