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Jury convicts Stoddard of murder

UPDATED: Wed., July 2, 2014, 4:19 p.m.

Jurors rejected Gary Stoddard’s denial of guilt in the March 2013 slaying of Heather Cassel, convicting the 46-year-old of murder and kidnapping on Wednesday.

“We’re very happy with the verdict,” said Cassel’s great-aunt, Donna Heinen, outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. “We’re so grateful to the police department and the prosecuting attorney, who was marvelous.”

Stoddard, who told jurors Tuesday he lied in a confession to police designed to protect his nephew and Cassel’s sometimes-boyfriend Jonathan Ritchey, nodded as the verdict was read Wednesday afternoon. The jury, made up of eight women and four men, deliberated for less than three hours before finding Stoddard guilty of both criminal counts. They also found him guilty of using a gun in commission of the crimes, which will add to his prison sentence.

Stoddard left the courtroom handcuffed, his face averted from the half-dozen Cassel family members seated in the gallery. He is scheduled to be sentenced later this summer and faces potential lifelong imprisonment.

Ritchey, who was also identified as a suspect early in the case, served a year in jail and was released after pleading guilty to rendering criminal assistance in the murder. Stoddard attempted to put the blame on Ritchey in his testimony, saying his nephew admitted to the killing after a night of drinking and arguing with the mother of his child.

Cassel was found outside a West Spokane apartment complex dead of gunshot wounds. A pair of handcuffs dangled from her left wrist.

But jurors sided with the prosecution, which produced DNA evidence linking Stoddard to the murder weapon and a stocking hat found at the scene. Police said Stoddard also attempted to hide himself in the hours after the shooting and made several withdrawals from personal bank accounts, indicating intentions to flee.

Heinen, whose son Dylan died in January 2013 of an accidental gunshot, said through tears Stoddard’s conviction lifted a burden from the family’s shoulders.

“Heather and Dylan are now happy, they’re happy,” she said.

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