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Jury rejects false-confession claim, finds Stoddard guilty of murder

A jury convicted Gary Stoddard on Wednesday of the 2013 kidnapping and murder of Heather Cassel.

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

Stoddard, who testified Tuesday his confession to police was a ruse to protect his nephew and Cassel’s sometimes-boyfriend Jonathan Ritchey, nodded as jurors read their verdict. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated less than three hours. 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 will 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 blamed Ritchey for the murder, saying his nephew admitted to the killing after a night of drinking and arguing with Cassel, 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.

Prosecutors used DNA evidence to link 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 that Stoddard’s conviction lifted a burden from the family’s shoulders.

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