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Convicted killer Starbuck hopes for new trial

THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2013, 3:09 P.M.

Clay Starbuck speaks with The Spokesman-Review on Thursday, June 6, 2013, at Spokane County Jail in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Clay Starbuck speaks with The Spokesman-Review on Thursday, June 6, 2013, at Spokane County Jail in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Clay D. Starbuck says he feels trapped in a living nightmare: the mother of his children is dead and he has been convicted of her torture killing.

“I didn’t do the crime so I would hope that people don’t give up, that they would keep looking” for the killer, Starbuck told The Spokesman-Review today in a jailhouse interview. “This is the worst that it can get.”

Starbuck smiled, politely answered questions, and said he was not angry with the jury.

“That’s just me,” said Starbuck behind safety glass inside the Spokane County Jail. “I’m not an angry person.”

Jurors saw otherwise and found Starbuck guilty of aggravated first-degree murder in the torture killing of his ex-wife, 42-year-old Chanin Starbuck. She suffered what officials called a prolonged attack that broke 10 of her ribs and left her with dozens of bruises and a crushed larynx.

The killer left Chanin Starbuck on her bed in a sexually explicit position, which is how she was discovered on Dec. 3, 2011.

Investigators found minute amounts of DNA on the woman’s neck, mouth area and fingernails that tested positive for either Clay Starbuck or his oldest sons, as well as an unidentified male.

Also, a series of text messages sent on Dec. 1, 2011, to the Starbuck children appear to have been sent by someone using Chanin Starbuck’s phone – after investigators believe she was already dead – who had intimate knowledge of the kids’ pet names and school schedules.

Defense attorney Derek Reid argued at trial and continues to maintain that investigators failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and criticized their decisions not to test multiple pieces of evidence, such has possible bodily fluid on Chanin Starbuck, swabs from her arms and stains on a mattress.

DNA found on the woman as well as her cellphone came from three separate unidentified males.

“That right there to me should have been a big enough flag that either multiple people were involved or it was someone other than me,” Clay Starbuck said.

Starbuck said he considered it “criminal” that detectives didn’t test all the evidence, including swabs from the victim’s arms, from sheets that may have been used to strangle his ex-wife, hairs and several areas that appeared to be blood stains.

Reid said it would have been a different story if all the evidence had been exhausted and the only evidence found pointed to his client.

“What if the swabs from the arms are DNA consistent with one of the three (unidentified) men?” Reid said. “It just didn’t go far enough.”

On Wednesday, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said investigators had plausible reasons for not testing all the swabs collected from the crime scene.

During trial, crime lab officials and detectives said they decided to test only those areas where they likely would find DNA of the killer.

But Reid argued then, and again on Thursday, that the DNA found on the victim was found in places where DNA could have been transferred during the death struggle from the very mattress pad where Clay Starbuck once slept.

Starbuck said he’s already focused on an appeal of the jury’s verdict.

“I don’t even think about life without parole. My whole focus is the appeal and hopefully another shot at trial,” he said. “I hope we can introduce evidence that was not allowed.”

Based on rulings before the trial by Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt, jurors did not hear about most of Chanin Starbuck’s relationships with several men online, including some who would pay to fly her to dates in Seattle and Portland.

Jurors were also barred from learning that a man texted Chanin Starbuck shortly before investigators believe she died, asking her to pose in essentially the same position in which she was later found dead.

Despite facing life in prison, Starbuck, who has already been in jail for 486 days, said he doesn’t blame the jurors for his conviction.

“I’m sure they did the best they could under the circumstances,” he said.

He noted that he granted every interview and provided evidence that detectives requested before he was arrested.

“Whatever they wanted we gave them. I still have nothing to hide,” he said. “I just look forward to bringing the evidence that we weren’t able to in the first trial.”

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