A juror was dismissed Monday from the first-degree murder trial of Shellye L. Stark after disclosures that he had improperly discussed the case during a social gathering last week, including making comments about a prosecutor’s hair.
Michael Cathcart acknowledged the discussion when questioned by Spokane Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen and was removed from the jury without objection from the prosecution or the defense.
He was replaced by one of the three alternates who have been present each day of the trial, which is expected to go to the jury today.
David Stevens, a deputy prosecutor not involved in the Stark case, told Eitzen that he had been at an open house for a friend’s business last Wednesday and Cathcart, whom he knew from the Spokane County Republican Central Committee, was there as well.
“What’s up with that guy that’s got the comb-over?” Stevens quoted Cathcart as asking him at the gathering. “And then I said, ‘That’s Larry Haskell. I think he had hair plugs in the past.’ ”
Stevens told Eitzen that Cathcart had said he was a juror on a murder trial and praised the lawyers and judges before asking about Haskell’s hairstyle. Haskell is one of two prosecutors assigned to the Stark trial.
Jurors have been ordered not to discuss the case with anyone until after arguments have concluded and deliberations have begun.
Cathcart’s dismissal preceded the final day of testimony in the trial, marked by a psychologist from Eastern State Hospital who said Stark had the ability to reason at the time of the shooting and questioned why she put herself so close to a man she claimed had been threatening to kill her.
Stark has said that she didn’t plan to be home when a family member served her husband with a temporary restraining order but that he’d arrived home early.
Even so, Dr. Nathan Henry said, just being in the home so close to the time he was due to arrive “is surprising behavior.”
Stark is claiming self-defense in the Dec. 9, 2007, shooting of Dale Robert Stark, saying that their 23-year marriage was rife with abuse, including forced prostitution, and that she didn’t even know her gunfire had killed her husband until she was charged with his murder.
The prosecution says the killing was a meticulously planned ambush motivated by greed for Dale Stark’s $400,000 life insurance policy, which went to the Starks’ teenage son after the killing.
Henry was rebutting last week’s testimony from Dr. Lenore Walker, a Florida-based psychologist who said Stark suffers from battered woman syndrome, which caused her to overreact when her husband threatened her.
The prosecution has hinted that Shellye Stark was actually the aggressor in the relationship, and two people who knew the couple described Dale Stark on Monday as an easygoing man who never got angry and seemed dominated by his wife.
“We teased him a little bit about who wore the pants in his family,” said Michael Howe, a Spokane businessman who employed Dale Stark.
Shellye picked up Dale Stark’s paycheck each week, Howe said – a contradiction to the defense’s claim that Dale Stark controlled the finances and took all his wife’s earnings from prostitution.
One woman’s testimony also contradicted Stark’s testimony that she’d never carried a gun before she obtained a .357-caliber revolver from her family the weekend of her husband’s death. Brandi Hicking said she worked at a casino the Starks frequented and owed Dale money.
Hicking said that when Shellye Stark came to the casino to get the cash, she told Hicking she was lucky to be at work because Stark carried a gun and could “take care of her.”
Hicking said under cross-examination that she never saw Shellye Stark with a firearm.
Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning, and the jury will likely begin deliberations by noon.