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Sunday, January 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sentencing in shooting death delayed

Blaming lawyers, Stark says she shouldn’t have testified while off medication

Thursday’s sentencing of convicted murder Shellye Stark was delayed for three weeks to allow for a substitution of counsel. A jury convicted Shellye L. Stark, 47, of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder on March 18.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Thursday’s sentencing of convicted murder Shellye Stark was delayed for three weeks to allow for a substitution of counsel. A jury convicted Shellye L. Stark, 47, of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder on March 18. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

A woman whose claims of self-defense in the shooting death of her husband were rejected by a Spokane jury told a judge Thursday she was hallucinating during last month’s trial because she wasn’t taking her medication in jail. She blamed her lawyers for allowing her to testify anyway.

“When I was prescribed that medication, I was told by a doctor at any time I was ever to stop taking it, I would have to be under the care of a nurse during that weaning-off period,” said Shellye Stark, who has fired her first legal team and wants a new trial. “I did suffer, and I did let my attorneys know that I was not on medication for a period of nine days.”

Stark has yet to be sentenced for the first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder convictions. Her new lawyer, longtime Spokane criminal defense attorney Julie Twyford, persuaded Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen to delay sentencing until April 30. Twyford also will represent Stark in an appeal of the convictions.

Stark was represented during the two-week trial by Spokane lawyers Bryan Whitaker and Russell Bradshaw, neither of whom objected to being replaced.

The prosecution is asking that Stark receive a prison sentence of about 50 years, according to a court filing.

Twyford told Eitzen on Thursday that Bradshaw had never argued a defense case until Stark’s trial and that neither he nor Whitaker knew what medications their client was prescribed “and what effect those medications were to have on her.”

Disagreement over post-conviction legal filings has made it impossible to work with Stark, Bradshaw and Whitaker said.

“She has put us in a position where we are now fighting with another attorney in front of you,” Whitaker told Eitzen.

Stark was jailed the week of her trial after police stopped her with her boyfriend, whom Stark was prohibited from seeing because he was a state witness. Records submitted by the defense to Eitzen on Wednesday include written requests from Stark to the Spokane County Jail for her Effexor and Xanax prescriptions.

Stark claimed self-defense in the Dec. 9, 2007, shooting death of her husband, Dale Robert Stark, 48, who died from five bullet wounds in the home he shared at 1620 S. Maple St. with the couple’s teenage son.

She said her husband mentally and physically abused her and forced her to work as a prostitute.

“I suppose it’s not that unusual for someone convicted to not be happy in retrospect with their representation,” Eitzen said Thursday.

But Whitaker and Bradshaw said they could no longer represent Stark because she was asking them to file a request for a new trial based on her claim that they’d made “egregious errors” and forced her take the stand without her medications.

“We have reached a point where our advice is no longer the advice that Ms. Stark, for lack of a better term, has confidence in,” Whitaker said.

Bradshaw and Whitaker had instead filed an arrest of judgment motion asking Eitzen to vacate the jury’s verdict based on a lack of evidence.

Twyford asked why Bradshaw and Whitaker refused to seek a new trial, a move she said is made after “just about any conviction in this county.”

Twyford has been a defense lawyer in Spokane since at least the early 1980s. She was one of convicted rapist Kevin Coe’s defense attorneys during his first trial, in 1981.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla unsuccessfully asked Eitzen to prohibit Twyford from representing Stark because she had talked to Stark’s family a few months ago about the Spokane police and the investigation into the family members’ involvement in the case.

Stark’s sister, Karen Jachetta, and mother, Dennise Johnson, both of Priest River, Idaho, were listed as co-conspirators in the case but have not been charged. Jachetta was driving to Spokane with Johnson’s gun when she hit a moose on U.S. Highway 2 and was hospitalized.

Her son retrieved the gun from the wreckage and gave it to Shellye Stark, who shot her husband with it a day later.

Included in documents given to Eitzen on Thursday was a handwritten letter from a Mead woman who said she met Shellye Stark while working at an assisted living center in Spokane Valley in 2005.

Barbara Prokopich said she was training Stark to work the night shift and the two talked extensively about Stark’s marital problems and extreme abuse by her husband, according to the letter.

The letter was mailed to Bradshaw March 30.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at

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