It started in Hollywood. Months into her relationship with her future husband, Shellye L. Stark felt so pressured by him that she agreed to stand on a corner in the celebrity-studded area of California and accept money for sex.
That money went to Dale Robert Stark, Shellye Stark said in Spokane County Superior Court Wednesday, and it began her career in the sex industry.
Driven by a fetish for seeing her with other men, Dale Stark forced her into that industry, Shellye Stark said, beating and verbally abusing her during their 23-year marriage, which ended Dec. 9, 2007, when she shot him five times in an early-morning confrontation at a South Hill home, seconds after their nephew and teenage son left.
Her lucrative career as a prostitute lasted through their marriage and was a bargaining chip for Dale, Shellye Stark said, who enjoyed threatening to tell her family what she did.
“It’s enough shame when you have to perform these acts,” she said through tears Wednesday. “I did not want to suffer more shame in the eyes of my family.”
Stark, now 47, was one of six witnesses to testify for the defense Wednesday in her first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder trial.
Her testimony is expected to continue today and is key to the defense’s claim that the shooting death of Dale Stark came after he threatened Shellye Stark, who suffered from years of abuse that triggered an overreaction.
Only one other witness has testified to witnessing abuse between the couple – Donna Haggerty, Shellye Stark’s sister, who said Wednesday that Dale Stark struck her sister twice during an argument in 2005.
Stark’s other sister, Karen Jachetta, and her mother, Dennise Johnson, said Shellye Stark changed after she married Dale, becoming more withdrawn and seeing her family less.
While the Starks’ son, Christopher, said Monday he knew his father had abused him but couldn’t remember any incidents, he agreed under questioning from the prosecution Wednesday that if he doesn’t remember, it might not have happened.
Dale Stark was a “happy, jovial man” when the couple met, Shellye Stark said, but on their first marriage anniversary in 1985, he became so angry with her for refusing to work at a massage parlor that he pinned her to the ground and choked her until she passed out.
When she awoke, he drove her to the parlor, where she soon started making $200 to $300 a day in tips for sexual acts, she said.
That money went to her husband, who gambled it away at casinos and continued his violent outbursts for the rest of their marriage, Stark said.
Shellye Stark told the jury she tried to escape prostitution by hiding money from Dale Stark so she could move away and even intentionally gaining weight “at an incredible rate,” but nothing worked.
Stark said she kept her career a secret from her family until the days leading up to the shooting. She told her mother while the family was at Deaconess Medical Center with Jachetta, who struck a bull moose while driving from Priest River to Spokane Dec. 7 with the pistol used to kill Dale Stark.
Jachetta underwent a 10-hour facial reconstruction surgery and never talked to Shellye about the problems with her husband as they had planned. Shellye Stark had flown to Spokane from California that week and obtained a temporary restraining order against Dale Stark that Jachetta was to serve; Jachetta’s son, Dale Johnson, did so instead.
He also retrieved the pistol and a shotgun from his mother’s wrecked car and gave it to Shellye in the hospital parking lot. Jachetta said Wednesday she and her sister needed the guns for protection but wasn’t sure they’d be used.
“I wanted to be prepared, because Mr. Stark was rather unstable,” Jachetta said.
Ten days prior to Dale Stark’s death, he called his mother-in-law, Dennise Johnson said, sounding angry with Shellye but saying he “didn’t want to hurt” anyone.
Under cross examination from Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla, Johnson said the call caused her concern, but not enough to call police.
Stark’s testimony today could be followed by Dr. Lenore Walker, a national domestic violence expert considered a key witness for the defense.
Walker interviewed Stark after her arrest and is expected to say she suffers from battered women’s syndrome, which led to an abnormal reaction when her husband threatened her.