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Figure In Shootings A Convicted Killer Epperson, Who Detectives Think Shot Paralegal Then Himself, Was Released From Prison In June

The Cheney man suspected of shooting his girlfriend to death then turning the gun on himself Saturday night had killed before.

Charles Epperson served nearly 17 years of a life prison sentence for the October 1975 slaying of his father-in-law, according to prison records and newspaper accounts.

Epperson shot James Hopkins to death in Everett after the two argued about Epperson’s failing marriage to Hopkins’ daughter, Sharon.

On the eve of his April 1976 trial, Epperson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, the Everett Herald reported.

He also pleaded guilty to first-degree assault for beating his wife during the attack.

Epperson, 48, was released last June and began living in Spokane, according to the state Department of Corrections.

It wasn’t clear if Terri Dobler - the paralegal found shot in the head inside her manufactured home about 8:30 p.m. Saturday - knew about her boyfriend’s criminal past.

“She never said anything about it to me,” said Nancy Jeanes, Dobler’s long-time friend.

The 41-year-old victim took a tough-on-crime stance in a letter published on The Spokesman-Review’s opinion page last October.

“As is becoming increasingly apparent, we live in a very violent society,” she wrote in a letter supporting Neal Rielly’s candidacy for Superior Court judge.

Dobler, who lost her first husband to cancer about four years ago, had dated Epperson for about four months. They moved in together recently.

Sheriff’s detectives think Epperson shot Dobler, then killed himself. Neighbors discovered Epperson’s body lying near Dobler’s. He had a gun in his hand, they said.

“That looks like the way it’s going to shake out to me,” sheriff’s Lt. John Simmons said. “We didn’t find anything that would indicate a double homicide.”

An autopsy on both bodies is scheduled for today.

Jeanes and Dobler’s boss, attorney Greg Staeheli, said they suspected Epperson was abusing Dobler.

“She was afraid of him,” Jeanes said. “There was abuse there, that’s all I’m going to say.”

It was common knowledge around the law firm of Kain, Snow and Staeheli that Dobler was in an abusive relationship, Staeheli said.

“She knew she was in trouble,” he said. “But she decided she would take care of it herself. She was very independent. That was her strength and her weakness. She got to the point where she wouldn’t ask for help.”

Jeanes said her friend wanted help but didn’t know where to turn. Dobler reportedly called her an hour before she died, begging for help.

“There’s very few people who know what to do or how to react in a domestic violence situation,” she said. “She didn’t know what to do.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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