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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Starbuck case in jury’s hands

Attorneys clash as murder trial closes

Accused murderer Clay Starbuck was a jealous, controlling, obsessed, greedy and angry man who finally took out his frustrations against the woman with whom he shared two marriages and several children, a Spokane County deputy prosecutor told a Spokane jury Monday.

But Starbuck’s defense attorney said the case against the 48-year-old Deer Park man, who’s charged with aggravated first-degree murder and sexually violating human remains in the death of his ex-wife, doesn’t add up. The defense attorney also questioned why investigators stopped short in testing all the evidence from the 2011 crime scene.

The attorneys gave their closing arguments after a two-week trial; jurors were sent home Monday without reaching a verdict and will return today to resume deliberations.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz described the victim, 42-year-old Chanin Starbuck, as a mother of five and friend to many “who suffered a long, tortured attack that eventually took her life.” The killer posed Chanin Starbuck’s body after her death in a sexually suggestive manner, sending “a strong message that (Chanin) was a loose woman, a promiscuous woman, who deserved to die a horrible, prolonged death,” Steinmetz said.

Chanin Starbuck’s body was discovered on Dec. 3, 2011. Clay Starbuck, who has no criminal record, said his car broke down that day and he remained either at the car or home on the day investigators believe his ex-wife was killed.

Steinmetz meticulously reviewed for the jury the 80 to 90 wounds the victim suffered and said the attack likely took many hours, probably while Starbuck was bound.

He also noted that Clay Starbuck’s phone “coincidentally” was shut off or stopped working about an hour before a 9:18 a.m. 911 call from Chanin Starbuck’s mobile phone. A minute after 911 tried to return that call, her phone also was shut off for more than two hours.

“Is it a mere coincidence that his phone dies …?” Steinmetz asked the jury. “Or, is it because he doesn’t want anyone tracking him or trying to call him the rest of the day?”

Later texts to two other men – one of whom testified he went to Chanin Starbuck’s Deer Park residence four times that day – were efforts by her killer “trying to find out who was knocking on the door and trying to contact Ms. Starbuck,” the deputy prosecutor said.

Steinmetz further noted that with Chanin Starbuck dead, Clay Starbuck would no longer have to pay $4,700 a month in child and spousal support.

But defense attorney Derek Reid noted that his client willingly turned over his phone and DNA samples to police and granted interviews at several junctures.

He detailed evidence such as DNA on Chanin Starbuck’s phone, which came back as an unidentified male, and DNA in Chanin’s fingernails, neck and mouth area that came as a partial match but did not specifically identify Starbuck. Reid pointed out that such a small sample of DNA could have come from a struggle on the very mattress where Clay Starbuck once slept.

Reid accused detectives of spinning his client’s statements to match their theories.

“He seemed too open, too willing to share. What if he hadn’t said anything? They would have said, ‘Why are you hiding it? Why didn’t you tell us what she was doing online?’ ”

Mostly, Reid ripped the state for not testing all the swabs taken by Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken from areas that may have evidence pointing to the killer.

Detectives found what appeared to be blood stains in a second bathroom, collected sheets and a towel that may have been used to strangle the victim and hairs from her body that were never tested.

“A murder trial needs more than this: conjecture, speculation. If this is enough, woe to the next innocent man who sits there because I hope he cries more, that he doesn’t talk too much or his cellphone was off too long.”

In response, Steinmetz said the unidentified male’s DNA on Chanin Starbuck’s phone could have come at any time.

Steinmetz also defended the decision not to test all the evidence.

“It’s not known whether another perpetrator contributed to this crime,” Steinmetz said. “One thing is known: The match does not exclude the defendant.”