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Prosecutors say Cheney man murdered his wife by poisoning her ice cream, defense says death was accident or suicide as trial begins

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 1, 2021

The Spokane County Courthouse is pictured.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane County Courthouse is pictured. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Prosecutors say David L. Pettis laced his wife’s ice cream with a lethal dose of pain medication in order to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance payouts and live a new life with his new girlfriend.

Defense attorneys say Peggy Pettis’ death was accidental or suicidal – not a homicide.

David Pettis, 60, has been charged with first-degree murder in his wife’s death.

A jury heard those opening arguments and witness testimonies Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

“This case is about smoke and how it usually means fire,” said Joseph Edwards, Spokane County deputy prosecutor.

Before David Pettis allegedly grounded up hydrocodone and placed it in his wife’s ice cream in June 2018, Edwards said the Cheney man traveled to New York for a funeral in November 2017 and “rekindled a flame” with a former girlfriend from high school.

Edwards also said when Peggy Pettis died, David Pettis would be the beneficiary of two large life insurance payouts, one policy that reportedly took effect two weeks before her death and another three days before her death.

Colin Charbonneau, one of David Pettis’ attorneys, countered by saying David Pettis loved his wife of 33 years.

After working on their Cheney farm on June 25, 2018, Charbonneau said David Pettis made a drink for his wife that night. He then ground up hydrocodone, added the ground up pill(s) to her drink and the two watched television in their living room, Charbonneau said.

Peggy Pettis, a school bus driver, had chronic pain from a significant leg injury she sustained in 2016, which left her with a limp.

Charbonneau said Peggy Pettis took pain medications, like hydrocodone and Tylenol, to treat the pain.

The Pettis couple eventually went to their bedroom, he said, but David Pettis, who has shoulder pain, got up and fell asleep on the living room couch.

When he woke up that same night, Charbonneau said David Pettis found his wife on the floor.

During the 911 call, David Pettis could be heard telling a dispatcher his wife’s face was blue and swollen and water was all over the floor.

The dispatcher directed David Pettis to perform chest compressions. Paramedics arrived and were unable to revive her.

Charbonneau said his client had relationships with other women and he used a dating website, but those relationships were friendly – not romantic.

David Pettis Jr., the 36-year-old son of David and Peggy Pettis, testified Wednesday that his father told him he slept in the same bed as the woman in New York. He allegedly visited the woman more than once while he was married to Peggy Pettis.

Pettis Jr. said his father’s accounts of his mother’s death changed over time.

He said his dad first told him his mother took a hydrocodone pill and went to bed. Then he said she had a drink and hydrocodone before going to bed. Later, his father allegedly told him she had ice cream with hydrocodone and went to sleep. He said his dad’s final account was that he crushed up hydrocodone and put it in her ice cream.

“I came to believe my dad had something to do with my mom’s death,” Pettis Jr. said, trying to hold back tears.

Pettis Jr. said his mom and dad were loving and close during his childhood, but when he moved back in with them between 2010 and 2012, it was more of a “hostile environment.”

He said the relationship trouble stemmed from financial and marital stress.

Pettis Jr. said his mother was not as “joyful” before her death as she used to be, but he did not believe she was suicidal.

He said he saw his mom take Tylenol and ibuprofen on several occasions to treat her pain, but he did not know she had a hydrocodone prescription.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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