October 22, 2010 in Region

Man guilty of murdering ’dog trainer to the stars’

Associated Press
 
Scott Terrell photo

Michiel Oakes is led away as Skagit County Prosecuter Rich Weyrich, left, looks on at Skagit County Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010. Oakes was convicted for the murder of celebrity dog trainer Mark Stover.
(Full-size photo)

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A jury convicted a security expert of first-degree murder today in the death of a dog trainer whose clients included some of Seattle’s most famous residents.

Michiel Oakes, 42, admitted at trial that he killed his girlfriend’s ex-husband, Mark Stover, but insisted he did it with Stover’s own gun after Stover shot at him. Oakes claimed Stover had been stalking him and his girlfriend, Linda Opdycke, in an obsessive attempt to regain wedding photos he believed Opdycke still had.

Prosecutors said the self-defense claim belied common sense, noting that Oakes never reported any threats by Stover to police and that he went to Stover’s house the morning he disappeared wearing a bullet-resistant vest and carrying two handguns.

Skagit County Superior Court jurors rejected the self-defense claim after nearly four days of deliberation. Oakes, who said he has trained police and military personnel in close combat techniques, faces 20 to 26 years in prison when he is sentenced. His two teenage daughters screamed and sobbed when the verdict was announced.

Stover disappeared a year ago, and his body never turned up. His clients included members of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, moviemaker Cameron Crowe, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz and Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Clients described Stover as kind and extremely gifted in dealing with the animals. But Stover had a difficult time with his 2007 divorce from Linda Opdycke, his partner of 16 years. He sometimes showed up uninvited at her new home in Winthrop, a three-hour drive across the Cascade Mountains, and was convicted of stalking her in late 2008 after a neighbor caught him stealing her garbage.

Opdycke is the daughter of Wallace Opdycke, a wealthy businessman who helped found the state’s biggest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. She said she was extremely afraid of Stover.

Surveillance video from a nearby Walmart showed Oakes buying ankle weights, anchor rope, shin guards and a camouflage sweat suit shortly before Stover disappeared last October. Oakes testified that he needed the camouflage gear in case he had to make an escape from Stover and his protection dog.

If necessary, Oakes said, he planned to escape to a nearby water tower. He would tie the weights to the rope so he could throw the rope up to reach the water tower’s ladder, he claimed.

Oakes told jurors he never had to make that escape. When he showed up to Stover’s house as Stover had insisted, he said, Stover confronted him with a gun and fired. The bullet hit the bullet-resistant vest and Oakes used his security training to disarm Stover and shoot him, Oakes said.

Worried no one would believe his story, Oakes said he tried to get rid of the body. But a woman saw him moving the body behind a nearby grange hall and reported him for trespassing. Oakes said he later dumped the body in the sea from a dilapidated dock behind a tribal casino.

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