Mistrial declared in Stark case

TUESDAY, FEB. 24, 2009

The jury was nearly seated and witnesses had flown in to testify, but an error by a defense lawyer delayed the first-degree murder trial of an alleged online prostitute who shot her estranged husband five times in the back.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen declared a mistrial Monday morning after Shellye Lynn Stark’s defense lawyer Bryan Whitaker told jurors the case wasn’t a death penalty case.

Calling it “foolish to continue,” Eitzen said case law prohibits jurors from considering punishment when reaching a verdict. Had the trial proceeded, the judge said, the verdict likely would be thrown out if appealed.

“I don’t think anybody meant to do this,” Eitzen said.

A new pool of 90 jurors will convene Monday.

Stark is claiming self-defense in the shooting death of her estranged husband, Dale Robert Stark, who died Dec. 9, 2007, in the South Hill home he shared with the couple’s teen son.

Stark had traveled from California – where she had been working as what her lawyers described as a “fairly high-priced” Internet prostitute named Nikita Jennifer – to obtain a restraining order against Dale Stark.

She told police she was at the home with her nephew to serve the restraining order when Dale Stark came home from a business trip about 1:45 a.m.

Defense lawyers Russell Bradshaw and Whitaker argue the shooting ended years of physical and sexual abuse against Shellye Stark that resulted in battered woman syndrome, which contributed to Stark’s overreaction when her husband threatened to kill her and eyed a kitchen knife.

National domestic violence expert Dr. Lenore Walker is a key defense witness and has testified at hundreds of trials about domestic violence and battered women’s syndrome.

Stark, who turns 47 today, is free on $250,000 bond.

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