The Idaho Supreme Court upheld convicted murderer Dale C. Shackelford’s two fixed life sentences Friday in its response to the former Kendrick man’s appeal.
Shackelford argued that he should have been given a different judge when he was resentenced in 2011 and that certain testimony should have been inadmissible.
Shackelford, 51, was convicted in 2000 of shooting his ex-wife, Donna Fontaine, and her boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk, the year prior at Fontaine’s Kendrick home and then burning the home to the ground to cover up the murders. He was also convicted of first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit arson and preparing false evidence.
Latah County Second District Judge John Stegner took back the death sentence he imposed on Shackelford in 2005 after a motion for post-conviction relief was filed, instead sentencing Shackelford to the two fixed life sentences in 2011. The judge dismissed an earlier motion to disqualify himself from the sentencing, which Shackelford filed because he felt Stegner was prejudiced due to his presiding over the murder trial and trials for his co-defendants. His ex-girlfriend, Bernadette Lasater, was sentenced to up to six years in prison for being an accessory to the double murder and lying to a grand jury.
In the state Supreme Court’s decision Friday, Justice Jim Jones wrote that a trial judge is not required to forget the incidents that came before sentencing, nor is it plausible they could, adding Stegner “acted within the bounds of his discretion.”
Jones wrote that Shackelford had no constitutional right to confront or cross-examine witnesses during sentencing proceedings. He had appealed partly based on an argument his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when out-of-court testimonials were included in a revised presentence investigation.
Suzanne Birrell, a friend of Shackelford’s ex-wife, had a letter filed in the report stating the convicted murderer had threatened her life should he be convicted, which Shackelford had argued should not be admissible as a victim impact statement. The Supreme Court stated the letter was not considered a victim impact statement during sentencing, but was admissible considering its main focus was Shackelford’s threat against her life.
“Shackelford fails to explain why threats to kill others ‘if (they) caused him to be put in prison’ would not be relevant evidence at the sentencing phase of a criminal proceeding,” the opinion stated. “It is certainly proper in the course of the sentencing process for a district court to be advised of and consider the potential danger a defendant may pose to others.”