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

Starbuck maintains innocence, plans appeal

Convicted of ex-wife’s murder

Clay Starbuck speaks with The Spokesman-Review on Thursday at Spokane County Jail. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Clay D. Starbuck says he feels trapped in a nightmare: The mother of his children is dead and he has been convicted of her torture killing.

“I didn’t do the crime so I would hope that people don’t give up, that they would keep looking” for the killer, Starbuck told The Spokesman-Review on Thursday in a jailhouse interview. “This is the worst that it can get.”

Starbuck smiled, politely answered questions, and said he was not angry with the jury.

“That’s just me,” said Starbuck behind safety glass inside the Spokane County Jail. “I’m not an angry person.”

Jurors saw otherwise and found Starbuck guilty of aggravated first-degree murder in the torture killing of his ex-wife, 42-year-old Chanin Starbuck. She suffered what officials called a prolonged attack that broke 10 of her ribs and left her with dozens of bruises and a crushed larynx.

The killer left Chanin Starbuck on her bed posed in a sexually suggestive position, which is how she was discovered on Dec. 3, 2011, in her Deer Park home.

Investigators found minute amounts of DNA on the woman’s neck, mouth area and fingernails that tested positive for either Clay Starbuck or his oldest sons, as well as an unidentified male.

A series of text messages sent on Dec. 1, 2011, to the Starbuck children appear to have been sent by someone using Chanin Starbuck’s phone – after investigators believe she was already dead – who had intimate knowledge of the kids’ nicknames and school schedules.

Defense attorney Derek Reid argued at trial and continues to maintain that investigators failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. He criticized decisions not to test some evidence.

DNA taken from Chanin Starbuck and her cellphone came from three unidentified males.

“That right there to me should have been a big enough flag that either multiple people were involved or it was someone other than me,” Starbuck said.

Starbuck said he considered it “criminal” that detectives didn’t test all the evidence.

Reid said it would have been a different story if all the evidence had been exhausted and the only evidence found pointed to his client.

Swabs from the victim’s arms weren’t tested, he noted. “What if the swabs from the arms are DNA-consistent with one of the three (unidentified) men?” Reid said. “It just didn’t go far enough.”

But Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said investigators had plausible reasons for not testing all the swabs collected from the crime scene.

During trial, crime lab officials and detectives said they decided to test only those areas where they likely would find DNA of the killer.

“Once they found DNA, (other items) weren’t tested,” Steinmetz said. The Washington State Patrol crime lab has to be judicious in performing tests because of its limited resources, he said.

Steinmetz also noted that even if other DNA had been found, “it wouldn’t exclude the defendant” from the crime scene.

But Reid argued that the DNA found on the victim could have been transferred during the death struggle from the very mattress pad where Clay Starbuck once slept.

Clay Starbuck said he’s already focused on appealing the jury’s verdict.

“I don’t even think about life without parole,” he said. “I hope we can introduce evidence that was not allowed. I feel comfortable that we would have had a different outcome.”

Based on rulings before the trial by Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt, the jurors did not hear about most of Chanin Starbuck’s relationships with several men online.

Jurors were also barred from learning that a man had texted Chanin Starbuck shortly before investigators believe she was killed, asking her to pose in essentially the same position she was later found dead.

Starbuck, who has been in jail for more than a year, noted that he granted every interview and provided any evidence that detectives requested before he was arrested.

“Whatever they wanted we gave them. I still have nothing to hide,” he said. “I just look forward to bringing the evidence that we weren’t able to in the first trial.”