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

Man found guilty of murdering ex-wife when she came to pick up children in Spokane; second murder charge expected

UPDATED: Tue., March 1, 2022

Nathan Beal, convicted of killing his ex-wife in August 2020, talks with his attorney Feb. 23 in Spokane Superior Court on the first day of his murder trial.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Nathan Beal, convicted of killing his ex-wife in August 2020, talks with his attorney Feb. 23 in Spokane Superior Court on the first day of his murder trial. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane man was convicted by a jury Tuesday morning of murdering his ex-wife in August 2020 when she came to pick up their two children.

A jury found Nathan Beal, 37, guilty of first-degree murder after less than three hours of deliberation.

Mary Schaffer had been getting out of her rental car, parked in front of Beal’s Browne’s Addition apartment complex, when he shot her in the head.

Schaffer had come to pick up her two children, who spent summers with Beal and the rest of the year with her in Oregon.

She was discovered a few hours later by a neighbor, who called police. Investigators quickly linked the crime to Beal after Schaffer’s boyfriend asked for a welfare check when he hadn’t heard from her for several hours.

Beal was arrested that same day.

His trial began last week and continued for most of the day Monday until the jury began deliberations in the late afternoon.

During the trial, Schaffer’s brother, Joseph Schaffer, testified that Beal had made threatening statements to him about his sister shortly after Mary Schaffer had a brain surgery to treat cancer.

“He would call me and say that she was brain damaged,” Joseph Schaffer said. “Or that she was not the person I knew.”

Once, Beal said that she needed to be taken out and shot, and that he was going to do it, Joseph Schaffer said.

Beal’s 14-year-old daughter said Beal talked about wanting to keep her and her younger brother for longer.

“I never saw them get angry with each other. I just know he didn’t look forward to dropping us off,” the girl said of her parents.

Mary Schaffer’s boyfriend, Justin Sharp, testified that a 2019 exchange of the children went extremely poorly and ended with them calling police to facilitate the transfer after Beal refused to open his door.

Beal’s ex-girlfriend told the court she bought Beal a handgun after he was denied from purchasing one himself, something that Beal confirmed during his testimony. Beal said he believes he was denied because the address on his drivers license didn’t match his current residence.

A ballistics expert said the bullet casing and a bullet fragment found in Schaffer’s car matched the gun found in Beal’s apartment that was purchased by his ex-girlfriend.

Beal took the stand Monday and denied shooting Schaffer.

He admitted he was “not enjoying” the custody arrangement and was “frustrated” with Schaffer, but denied killing her and denied his gun was used in the attack.

“That gun was not used to shoot Ms. Schaffer,” Beal said.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Dale Nagy argued that not only did Beal have motive for killing his ex-wife, he had means and opportunity. His daughter testified he was acting strangely after a long trip out to buy mochas that day.

Ballistics matched the gun to the one found in Beal’s apartment, Nagy reminded the jury.

Beal’s attorney, Stephanie Cady, pointed to inconsistencies in the state’s timeline, lack of DNA evidence on a sweatshirt prosecutors say Beal was wearing at the time of the shooting and alleged bias on the part of the ballistic expert, during her closing argument.

The jury began deliberating about 3:15 p.m. Monday and stopped for the day just before 5 p.m. On Tuesday morning, they deliberated for less than an hour before returning a guilty verdict.

A second homicide case was filed Tuesday against Beal. Beal is accused of killing Andrew Bull in March 2020 as practice in preparation to kill his ex-wife.

The gun used to kill Schaffer was a match for the one used to kill Bull, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

Beal is set to be sentenced for Schaffer’s murder on March 25.

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