Struggling at first to find his voice, murder suspect Clay Starbuck answered questions all afternoon Thursday and twice denied strangling his ex-wife to death in her Deer Park home.
Starbuck, 48, took the witness stand after listening to two weeks of testimony about the slaying of Chanin Starbuck, 42, whose body was posed in a sexually suggestive position when she was discovered on Dec. 3, 2011.
Asked by defense attorney Jill Ganon-Nagle if he killed Chanin Starbuck, Clay Starbuck said: “No, I did not.”
Starbuck, who has no prior criminal record, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sexually violating human remains. Because of scheduling issues, the trial won’t resume until June 3, when attorneys will make closing statements.
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz questioned Clay Starbuck on Thursday about his statements to witnesses both before and after his ex-wife’s death.
Clay Starbuck admitted that he told several people – including investigators – about his ex-wife meeting men on online dating sites. Four such men were texting Chanin Starbuck on the day investigators believe she was killed.
“Do you think Chanin Starbuck’s killer was trying to send a message?” Steinmetz asked.
“I don’t know,” Starbuck replied. “It would only be assumptions.”
Starbuck admitted that he had put software on Chanin Starbuck’s computer in 2010 that allowed him to spy on her online activities. But that software was no longer active for months before the killing.
“I was suspicious of online dating activities,” Starbuck said. “I wouldn’t say jealousy. It would be verifying, double checking to find out whether someone was lying to you or not.”
Earlier, when Gannon-Nagle asked why he volunteered information about Chanin Starbuck’s dating history to others, Clay Starbuck said it was out of concern “and to see if we could help her.”
Steinmetz, the prosecutor, then asked how it could have helped Chanin Starbuck to tell one of their children’s teachers about her sexual activity in a conversation two weeks before the killing. In that same conversation, the teacher testified earlier, Starbuck said he wouldn’t be surprised to find his ex-wife dead.
Starbuck said he could not remember specifics about the conversation.
“You were telling anyone who would listen to you about Chanin’s sexual activities. Your statements not only mirror but telegraphed what law enforcement found on Dec. 3, 2011. Do you agree with that?” Steinmetz said.
Starbuck said he didn’t.
Steinmetz then challenged Starbuck’s spotty memory of Dec. 1, when he said his car broke down. Starbuck said he spent hours fixing the car, napping or playing video games at his home that day, when investigators believe Chanin Starbuck was tortured and killed.
“Would you agree with me that the story you provided to detectives … put you in close proximity to Ms. Starbuck’s home in case you were spotted,” Steinmetz said. “If you were inside her home killing her, you would have built an alibi.”
Starbuck quickly responded: “I did not kill Chanin Starbuck, so I do not agree with you.”
Starbuck said Dec. 1 was just a “normal day.”
Steinmetz challenged Starbuck about a meeting on Dec. 6, 2011, when he provided detectives with a specific route that he said he walked on Dec. 1. A nearby surveillance camera did not record Starbuck that day.
Starbuck testified that he didn’t remember giving specifics about his walking route to detectives that day.
“I don’t recall anything other than showing them where the car died,” Starbuck said. “There was no talk of me being a suspect or an alibi check or anything.”
In previous testimony, Detective James Dresback said Clay Starbuck buckled on Dec. 3 when Dresback informed him of Chanin Starbuck’s death. While Starbuck appeared to cry, Dresback said he never saw any tears. Steinmetz asked Starbuck if he was faking.
“Why would I do that? I don’t fake anything,” Starbuck replied. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m actually a pretty sensitive guy.”