BOISE — State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an Idaho Supreme Court decision that largely cleared the way for a former death row inmate to be re-sentenced, his office said today.
Dale Shackelford, of Ironton, Mo., was convicted in 2000 of shooting to death his ex-wife, Donna Fontaine, and her boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk, and then setting their bodies ablaze in the remote north-central Idaho village of Kendrick, southeast of Moscow.
His complicated trial lasted more than a month, with Latah County prosecutors describing an elaborate scheme in which Shackelford and several of his lovers all plotted to kill Fontaine.
Second District Judge John Stegner sentenced Shackelford to death for the crimes. But the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled in a separate case that juries, not judges, must determine if defendants are eligible for the death penalty.
That ruling prompted Stegner to order a new sentencing hearing for Shackelford, now 48.
The Idaho Supreme Court determined that Stegner was right to order a new hearing in a January ruling that upheld Shackelford’s double murder conviction. The court rejected Idaho Attorney General’s contention that because the jurors found that Shackelford committed two murders, they effectively determined that he committed one of the aggravating factors that would make him eligible for the death penalty.
The attorney general, along with Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson, wants the U.S. Supreme Court to consider that argument and review the state high court’s decision.
“Our position is the Idaho Supreme Court was wrong,” Thompson said.
The case began in May 1999 when the charred bodies of Fontaine and Palahniuk were found in the ashes of a burned-down garage in the outskirts of Kendrick. Fontaine, a former prosecuting attorney from Pilot Knob, Mo., had met Shackelford five years earlier while teaching a class at a Missouri prison where he was serving time on a sodomy conviction.
The two began a romance, and married the next year after his release. The couple bought land near Kendrick, where they planned to build a home, but the marriage soon soured and they divorced in 1997.
Prosecutors said that shortly after, Shackelford began planning to kill Fontaine, with the aid of various women he was dating. When his efforts in Missouri failed, prosecutors said the scheme spread to Idaho, where Shackelford persuaded his new fiance, Sonja Abitz, and her mother, Mary, to help him.
Prosecutors said Abitz agreed to the scheme because Fontaine had recently filed rape charges against Shackelford, effectively interrupting their wedding plans.
Shackelford was accused of killing his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Palahniuk, a Newman Lake, Wash. resident and the father of famous author Chuck Palahniuk, out of jealousy.
In his failed appeal, Shackelford contended that the lower court made several errors during the trial. In part, Shackelford said the judge wrongly allowed statements made by his co-defendants outside the courtroom to be used by prosecutors in the trial, and said the jury was given faulty instructions for determining his guilt.
Shackelford is seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review of his case, state officials said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.