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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Examiner: Hydrocodone killed Peggy Pettis, but whether she took pain meds herself or was poisoned remains question

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 2, 2021

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

A medical examiner testified Thursday that he could not determine whether the woman who died from ingesting a lethal dose of hydrocodone in June 2018 took the pain medication herself or was poisoned by another person.

Prosecutors say David Pettis, 60, laced 64-year-old Peggy Pettis’ ice cream with a deadly amount of hydrocodone in order to receive life insurance payouts from his wife and start a new life with an old girlfriend.

Thursday marked the third day of Pettis’ first-degree murder trial.

Dr. John Howard, Spokane County forensic pathologist and medical examiner at the time of the woman’s death, said the level of hydrocodone found in her system was “known to be lethal by itself,” but the muscle relaxer, antihistamine, antidepressant and acetaminophen medications she consumed that night likely hastened her death.

Court documents said the hydrocodone was about 10 times the “therapeutic amount.”

Authorities and medical personnel responded to the unconscious woman the night of June 25, 2018, at 21424 S. Beckley Lane southwest of Cheney, the documents said.

Pettis, who is not in custody, said in the court documents that he had fallen asleep on the living room couch sometime after 8:30 p.m.

He said he woke up at about 10:30 p.m. and found his wife lying on the floor face down between the bed and the bathroom, according to the documents. He called 911 and started CPR. She died at about 11:10 p.m.

Prior to his wife’s death, Spokane County deputy prosecutor Joseph Edwards said Wednesday, Pettis 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 his wife died, Pettis would be the recipient of two large life insurance payouts, one policy that took effect two weeks before her death and another three days before her death.

Witnesses testified that Peggy Pettis was aware of the woman her husband stayed with in New York and also reportedly communicated with for the months that followed.

William Porter, who lived with his wife, Nancy, at the Pettis residence, told the court Thursday that David Pettis told him, while Peggy was in the same room, that few men get the chance to have two women love them at the same time.

Nancy Porter said she heard Pettis calling the other woman “sweetheart,” telling her he loves her and that “I can’t wait to be with you.”

Colin Charbonneau, one of Pettis’ attorneys, said Wednesday that his client had relationships with other women, but they were friendly instead of romantic.

Witnesses who knew the Pettis couple said their relationship became rocky in the months and few years leading up to her death. Financial issues were one big reason.

Nancy Porter said Peggy Pettis seemed depressed, but said she did not think the woman would kill herself. The defense said Wednesday that Pettis’ death was tragic but the result of an accident or suicide – not a murder.

Nancy Porter said David Pettis brought up life insurance every day or nearly every day starting about one month prior to Peggy’s death. David Pettis was also seeking life insurance.

“It was like he was pushing her to get insurance,” Nancy Porter said.

According to court documents, Pettis called the medical examiner’s office July 2, 2018, and inquired if there was anything that could be done to speed up the toxicology report results as he needed it to receive the life insurance money and bury his wife. The documents said Pettis called the Washington State Patrol Toxicology Laboratory about 10 times, saying his daughter was upset with how long the process was taking, documents said.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.

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