When Shellye L. Stark testified last week about a marriage she described as marred by abuse, she said what prosecutors used as a foundation for their closing arguments Tuesday.
“We had mastered destroying each other,” Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Haskell recalled the first-degree murder defendant telling the jury.
The question the nine men and three women set to begin their second day of deliberations today must answer is who was the aggressor in a relationship both sides acknowledge was unhealthy: Shellye Stark, or the husband she shot to death Dec. 9, 2007, in what she says was an act of self defense, Dale Robert Stark.
Describing the Stark marriage as “mutual combat,” Haskell contended Shellye Stark was the one in control, and when that control began to slip away as her marriage unraveled, she developed a plan after moving to California to be with her boyfriend, Brian Moore.
“Ultimately, that plan ended with the execution of Mr. Stark,” Haskell said.
But defense lawyer Russell Bradshaw told jurors the evidence simply doesn’t support that claim, pointing to Spokane police Detective Kip Hollenbeck as the instigator of an investigation that didn’t examine all the facts.
He said the evidence that Stark staged the shooting scene at the 1620 S. Maple Street home just isn’t there. Detective Brian Hamond told jurors the .357 revolver used in the shooting appeared placed by Dale Stark’s body, and pointed to the knife and onion on the kitchen counter with no other food as evidence.
But Stark has said she was chopping onions the Friday before the killing when she rushed out of the home to see her sister, Karen Jachetta, in the hospital, who’d hit a moose while driving to Spokane from her Priest River, Idaho, home to give weapons to her sister.
The gun was set down instead of thrown because Stark waited until a 911 dispatcher instructed her to set it down, Bradshaw said.
“She did what she was told,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw contested the prosecution’s argument that Stark shot her husband in the back, although forensics showed the man suffered three bullet wounds to the back.
Stark said last week she just started pulling the trigger when Dale Stark reached for a knife and threatened to kill her, but that she never intended to kill him.
“His back was turned as he was advancing,” Bradshaw said, emphasizing that Dale Stark was left handed and would have turned to grab the knife as he charged his wife.
“He wasn’t coming over to give her a hug,” Bradshaw said.
The defense acknowledges the shooting was an overreaction to what they say was a death threat by Dale Stark.
But they point to key details from their client when arguing the overreaction was caused by years of abuse: Dale Stark was angry at Shellye for the restraining order, his face had reddened and he’d cursed and threatened her just as he had during past beatings.
Those are trauma triggers indicative of battered women’s syndrome, which a Florida-based psychologist said provoked Shellye Stark’s overreaction.
But Haskell highlighted flaws in testimony from Dr. Lenore Walker, who during testimony last week corrected herself after Haskell pointed out that there was no reference to marital abuse in Stark’s interview with Hollenbeck.
When asked to find death threats she said were in emails Dale Stark sent to his wife, Walker quoted “I’m sorry I have to play hardball” and said nothing more.
Bradshaw urged the jury to put themselves in Stark’s shows and imagine the years of abuse she described. The lack of corroborating evidence to her claims is common in domestic violence, experts on both sides have acknowledged.
“Broad corroboration is a luxury Ms. Stark could not afford because the price of broad corroboration, the price of opening that door, was her life,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw reminded jurors that the prosecution erroneously suggested Shellye was to lose her right to her husband’s $400,000 life insurance policy when arguing a motive, though the prosecution has also pointed to the loss of the Maple Street home as another reason for the killing.
Jury deliberations continue Wednesday morning.