Shellye Stark collapsed into her chair, muttering “Oh no, oh no,” as a jury convicted her Friday for the second time of first-degree murder for killing her estranged husband in 2007.
Stark’s attorneys told the jury that the slain man, Dale R. Stark, had subjected their client to decades of spousal abuse. But the jury rejected their arguments that the shooting Dec. 9, 2007, came as a result of Shellye Stark trying to defend herself.
However, the jury found the 50-year-old Stark not guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
“I’m very happy with the jury’s decision and verdict,” Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said. “It was a tough case.”
The first jury in 2009 convicted Stark of both charges, and she was sentenced to 51 years. But those convictions were thrown out on appeal because of a technicality involving one of the instructions given to jurors.
One of her two attorneys, Dennis Dressler, said he was very disappointed with the guilty verdict.
“There were two major tragedies from this point going backward: One was the 24 years Shellye spent with Dale Stark and the other was the verdict today,” Dressler said.
Ed Carroll, the other defense attorney, added, “And I felt Ms. Stark should have been not guilty on both counts.”
Cipolla told the jury on Thursday to disregard the self-defense arguments, saying that Shellye Stark conspired with her sister and boyfriend, Brian L. Moore, to kill Dale Stark for his $400,000 life insurance policy.
Stark took the stand in her own defense and said her husband was reaching for a knife – which she had set on the kitchen counter – when she shot him in the back in their home on the South Hill.
“Any way you look at it, the facts as outlined by Ms. Stark didn’t happen,” Cipolla said. “The forensics make it impossible. Mr. Stark could not have been reaching for that knife.”
Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen set the sentencing for Oct. 2. Stark faces a minimum of 25 years and a maximum of 31 1/2 years in prison.
The case featured steamy descriptions of marital difficulties and forced prostitution.
Cipolla said Stark at one point was making as much as $10,000 a month as a prostitute under the name Nikita Jennifer. The prosecutor said the plan to kill Dale Stark came only after Shellye Stark met Brian Moore, who faces an Oct. 8 retrial for the same murder.
“The facts are clear. Ms. Stark wanted it all. Brian Moore wanted it all. They made the plan. They researched battered wife syndrome. They researched everything,” Cipolla said. “Because of the timing, the plan changed a bit. But the plan was carried out.”
On Thursday, Dressler said Dale Stark, a former champion-level wrestler and U.S. Marine, first asked Shellye Stark to work as a prostitute during the eight months they were dating. She married him anyway.
“You don’t say no to Dale Stark,” Dressler said. “He would have one of his anger fits. He’d strike Ms. Stark, wrestle her to the ground. He would pin her with his knee to her neck. As she was losing consciousness … he would tell her, ‘You are dying.’ After a while you begin to believe you have no control, you are worthless and you have no options.”
At some point, Shellye Stark decided she had to get out of the 24-year marriage and employed the help of Moore to seek a temporary restraining order. She delivered that order, which barred Dale Stark from his own home, on the night of the shooting.
“He didn’t leave. He started to approach Shellye Stark … madder than ever before. There was no conspiracy to kill Dale Stark,” Dressler said. “Our contention is when you review everything, that it was justifiable because she was acting in defense of herself.”
Cipolla asked why, if Shellye Stark truly feared her husband, she would put herself in harm’s way to deliver a document she knew would enrage him.
“She is the one controlling the situation,” Cipolla said. “She got a gun, bought bullets, she lured the husband into the kitchen. She shot once, took a break, shot a couple more times, took a break and then to make sure she did it right, she walked up and shot him again.”