Shellye L. Stark didn’t just kill her husband – she planned the murder meticulously, prepared the crime scene and ordered her son and nephew out of the home before gunning down Dale Robert Stark in a late-night ambush, the prosecution argued Wednesday.
A jury of nine men and three women heard from Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Haskell in the opening of a first-degree murder and conspiracy trial that’s expected to last two weeks.
The defense, which is expected to argue the shooting was an act of self-defense that ended years of abuse, will give its opening statement after the prosecution presents its evidence.
The trial comes more than a year after Dale Stark, 48, died in the South Hill home he shared with the estranged couple’s teenage son.
Shellye Stark, now 47, told police she had traveled from Orange County, Calif. in the days before the Dec. 9, 2007, killing, got a gun from a family member for protection and was serving a newly obtained restraining order with her nephew when the shooting occurred.
“Dale Robert Stark is dead and he shouldn’t be,” Haskell said.
Stark was working as an online prostitute named Nikita Jennifer when she met her now fiancé Brian Moore on an online message board devoted to prostitution.
The two moved in together in Southern California in fall 2007, Haskell told the jury, shortly after the Starks signed a settlement that divided up their property in Spokane.
Soon after the move, Shellye Stark became unhappy with the settlement, then learned Dale Stark had a new girlfriend, Haskell said, and that his $400,000 life insurance policy, car and house might soon slip out of her reach.
“That had to be fixed,” Haskell said.
The restraining order granted Dec. 7 outlines years of abuse by Dale Stark against Shellye and includes a letter of support from Moore, but Haskell said the jury will hear from an expert that such orders take the petitioner’s story verbatim, and that standard procedure calls for police – not the petitioner – to serve the orders.
“This is a person who’s so afraid of Mr. Stark, yet she insists the police not be involved,” Haskell said.
The Starks’ only child, Christopher Stark, 18, and their nephew, Dale Johnson, will testify that Shellye Stark instructed them to leave when Dale Stark arrived home about 1:45 a.m. the day of the killing, Haskell said.
“Within seconds of them running out of the house, shots rang out,” Haskell said.
Dale Stark died from five gunshot wounds, Haskell told jurors – three to the back, one through his left tricep that then entered the torso, and one fired into him as he lay on the floor dying.
Shellye Stark told police her husband was eyeing a kitchen knife and threatening to kill her when she shot him, but Haskell said Stark herself planted the knife before her husband came home.
Shellye Stark, dressed in a brown suit with her hair tied in a bun, cried during Haskell’s 15-minute statement.
She’s been booked at the Spokane County Jail since Monday after prosecutors spotted her with Moore, who’s listed as a state witness, during a break in jury questioning. Presiding Judge Tari Eitzen’s bench warrant revoked her $250,000 bond and didn’t set another.
Testimony begins today at 9:30 a.m.
The prosecution lists more than 23 witnesses; the defense has nine, including national domestic violence expert Lenore Walker, who’s expected to testify that Stark suffers from battered women’s syndrome, which triggered an overreaction when her husband threatened her.
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