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Clay Starbuck trial pulls veil off private lives

Thu., May 16, 2013

Details of secret lives spilled across a Spokane courtroom Wednesday as jurors in the murder trial of a Deer Park man heard intimate tales of suitors trying to set up dates with the victim – the ex-wife of the accused.

For much of the afternoon, jurors listened to the monotone answers of high school teacher John Kenlein, who had refused to identify himself to investigators until one detective threatened to take surveillance video of him to the media.

Today, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz is expected to call Medical Examiner Sally Aiken to document the strangulation death of 42-year-old Chanin Starbuck on Dec. 1, 2011.

Her ex-husband, Clay D. Starbuck, 48, is facing life without parole if convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sexually violating human remains. Prosecutors have a partial DNA match to the ex-husband found on the neck and fingernails of the slain Chanin Starbuck.

But Kenlein documented in detail how he visited Chanin Starbuck’s Deer Park home four times on the day she died, after he took a personal day off from his job at Lewis and Clark High School.

Kenlein described how he would use pay phones and the public computers at Whitworth University and libraries to keep his activities secret from his wife. He said he met Chanin Starbuck in mid-September 2011.

“We had a sexual relationship,” Kenlein said.

In between taking his kids to school, shopping with his wife and taking his daughter to basketball practice, Kenlein said he never got a response to repeated visits to Chanin Starbuck’s home, despite puzzling texts from her asking about his whereabouts.

“Ms. Starbuck didn’t actually know anything about your personal life other than what you posted online?” asked defense attorney Jill Gannon-Nagle. “Your statement is correct,” Kenlein responded.

Despite his many visits to the home, including trying to open the front door, investigators were unable to link any evidence from Kenlein to the crime.

The most potentially damaging testimony to Clay Starbuck came earlier in the day when Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz called teacher Meredith Pearson, who met Clay and Chanin Starbuck on Nov. 21, 2011, for a parent-teacher conference.

After Chanin and their son, Marshal, left, Pearson said Clay Starbuck began volunteering information about Chanin’s secret online dating life.

“He was concerned about some of the choices she was making with men she was seeing,” Pearson said. “He told me that the children hated her.

“He said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we find her dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find her with her throat slit open.’ ”

Medical evidence showed that Chanin Starbuck suffered bruising all over her body and had six broken ribs. However, DNA gathered from her telephone and from bodily fluids at the scene came from two separate unidentified males.

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