March 12, 2009 in City

Stark says husband forced her to sell sex

She suffered years of abuse, she testifies
Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 

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 California and accept money for sex.

The money went to Dale Robert Stark, Shellye Stark said in Spokane County Superior Court on 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 the industry, Shellye Stark said. She also said he beat and verbally abused her during their 23-year marriage. On Dec. 9, 2007, she shot him five times in an early-morning confrontation at a South Hill home, seconds after their nephew and teenage son left.

Shellye Stark said her work as a prostitute lasted through their marriage and was a bargaining chip for Dale, who threatened 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, 47, was one of six witnesses to testify for the defense Wednesday in her trial. She is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Her testimony is expected to continue today and is key to the defense’s claim that Dale Stark’s shooting came after he threatened Shellye Stark, who suffered from years of abuse that triggered an overreaction.

One other person has testified to witnessing abuse between the couple: Donna Haggerty, Shellye Stark’s sister, who said Wednesday that Dale Stark struck Shellye 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Karen Jachetta, and her mother, Dennise Johnson, said Shellye Stark changed after she married Dale, becoming more withdrawn and seeing her family less.

The Starks’ son, Christopher, said Monday that he knew his father had abused him but that couldn’t remember any incidents. He agreed under questioning from the prosecution Wednesday that if he doesn’t remember incidents of abuse, they might not have happened.

Dale Stark was a “happy, jovial man” when the couple met, Shellye Stark said Wednesday, 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 performing sexual acts, she said.

That money went to her husband, who gambled it away at casinos, Stark said.

Shellye Stark told the jury that she tried to escape prostitution by hiding money from Dale Stark so she could move away and by intentionally gaining weight “at an incredible rate,” but that nothing worked.

Stark said she kept the prostitution 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 her sister Jachetta, who struck a bull moose while driving from Priest River, Idaho, to Spokane Dec. 7, 2007, with the pistol used to kill Dale Stark.

After the car accident, Jachetta underwent a 10-hour facial reconstruction surgery and never talked to Stark 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 Stark 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 before Dale Stark’s death, he called his mother-in-law sounding angry with Shellye Stark but saying he “didn’t want to hurt” anyone, Dennise Johnson said .

Under cross-examination from Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla, Johnson said the call caused her some concern, but not enough to call police.

Dr. Lenore Walker, a national domestic violence expert considered a key witness for the defense, is expected to testify today.

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.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or meghannc@spokesman.com.

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