Appellate judges on Thursday unanimously upheld Clay Starbuck’s murder conviction and life sentence for the December 2011 slaying of his ex-wife, Chanin.
Starbuck was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder by a jury in 2013. He and Chanin Starbuck completed a second divorce in July 2011 and Clay Starbuck owed her thousands in monthly child support for the couple’s three minor children at the time of Chanin Starbuck’s death. Clay Starbuck contended at trial that DNA evidence from Chanin Starbuck’s phone belonged to an unidentified man and that she led a promiscuous lifestyle after the marriage ended, suggesting there may be another suspect in the case.
Starbuck appealed his conviction, alleging the court should have allowed his defense to introduce evidence that his ex-wife had more sexual partners who might be suspects. Writing for the majority, Judge Kevin Korsmo rejected this argument.
“The fact that Ms. Starbuck may have had sexual relationships with more men than the jury learned about simply does not enlighten anyone concerning the identity of her killer,” he wrote. The court also noted that Clay Starbuck often mentioned his ex-wife’s sex life to others and that he had “the clearest motives” for the crime.
“This was a classic case of circumstantial evidence, variations of which have been seen in murder cases throughout the centuries,” Korsmo wrote. “It was sufficient to permit the jury to identify Clay Starbuck as the killer.”
Clay Starbuck is being held at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Because he was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, he must serve a life sentence under Washington state law.
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