Todd D. Stuart walked out of jail a free man Thursday afternoon, one hour after a Franklin County jury returned “not guilty” verdicts in the 2011 death of his mother-in-law.
After being locked up in the county facility for 218 days, Stuart was overcome with emotion in the courtroom as reality set in. He hugged his Seattle attorney, Jeffery Robinson, then sat in his chair, removed his eyeglasses and sobbed into a tissue.
His imminent freedom became official when Robinson signed a “judgment of acquittal” that confirmed the jury’s findings on one count each of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder.
Stuart, 49, was accused of devising a plan with his wife to kill her mother, Judy Hebert, so the couple could inherit her property. He denied any involvement in a February 2011 incident that left Hebert with a severe neck injury or her eventual death two weeks later on March 3, 2011.
Stuart was on his way to California and not in the Salmon Drive home when Hebert was killed. His estranged wife, Tashia, is charged with her mother’s fatal shooting.
As Stuart and Robinson waited in court Thursday for the document that would assure his quick release, a Herald reporter asked if Stuart wanted to comment on the verdicts.
“No, he’s not going to say anything,” Robinson said for his client.
Minutes earlier, the lawyer told the media they were “extremely grateful” for the jury’s verdicts.
“We believe it was the absolute right and correct verdict. But there is no joy here,” Robinson added. “There is a sense of relief that an innocent man has not been convicted for something he didn’t do. But there is a woman who has died. There is a family that’s broken. So nobody is walking out of here with a smile on their face.”
This is the first case Prosecutor Shawn Sant has taken to trial since he assumed office in January 2011. Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum assisted.
Sant told the Herald he was not disappointed with the result even though it didn’t go in his favor. He was confident he could get a conviction, but also knew it was going to be a tough case.
“Something that I value with our justice system is some cases are such that you have to defer to a jury,” he said as he waited to talk with jurors. “This was a serious enough case that we simply couldn’t not move forward. I felt we should push forward to trial.”
Sant was upset that he couldn’t introduce some of the evidence to the jury because of pretrial rulings by Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell, but recognized the panel thoroughly deliberated the case.
“This was a circumstantial case with limited direct evidence, and clearly we had no — as to this co-defendant — we had no eyewitnesses, so we knew from the beginning that this would make it a challenge,” he said. “We don’t take easy cases to trial and will continue to do our work.”
The trial started Sept. 10 with jury selection. The first testimony was given Sept. 20, and the case went to the jury Wednesday afternoon.
Jurors spent about 51/2 hours deliberating Wednesday and Thursday before announcing at 2:20 p.m. that they’d reached a decision. They were brought into the courtroom at 2:54 p.m. so a clerk could read the verdicts. By 4 p.m., Stuart had collected his personal belongings and left the jail.
Seven jurors sat down to talk with the Herald under the agreement that they remain anonymous.
They acknowledged that “it was difficult to come to this decision,” but for them it all was in the state’s evidence — or really the lack of evidence to prove Stuart helped plot Hebert’s death.
“It’s like you’re trying to put a puzzle together, and we couldn’t find the pieces,” one man said.
“It’s just a reasonable doubt. There was a reasonable doubt there with the evidence we had in this room,” another man said.
Once they had the case Wednesday, the group didn’t take a vote but “felt it out” to see what everyone was thinking. It was more than an hour before the 250 items in evidence were taken back to the jury room, and by then, they decided they didn’t really have the time or resources to delve into intense discussions, so they recessed for the day.
A male juror said of Wednesday, “I was just mentally exhausted when I got home.”
They started fresh Thursday and “went through everything with a fine-tooth comb,” viewing each piece of evidence as they discussed the allegations.
The group said it deliberated with the thought that Stuart was innocent until proven guilty — as Robinson had repeated must be done — but one woman admitted she has her reservations and may have returned a different verdict.
“But did the state, with the evidence we had, did it prove he was guilty?” she asked.
Another juror said for the first day or two, the panel was left wondering just who was on trial because a majority of the evidence relates to Tashia Stuart’s case.
Tashia Stuart, 39, faces trial Oct. 24 on one count of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. She has claimed self-defense and said her mother came at her with an ax.
Hebert, 58, was shot twice inside her Salmon Drive home. Her death came 11 days after she was hit on the head by a 31.8-pound plastic bin that fell from the rafters in her garage.
Sant claimed Todd and Tashia Stuart arranged for Hebert to be in a certain spot in the garage so she would be severely hurt after Tashia allegedly pushed the bin. Sant told jurors in Todd Stuart’s trial that the conspiracy to kill Hebert started long before the garage incident.
The couple, along with Tashia’s 7-year-old daughter, moved into Hebert’s Pasco home in January 2011.
Prosecutors claimed Todd Stuart went to California to visit family a couple days before Hebert was killed with the plan that Tashia Stuart would finish off her mother and say she was defending herself. Todd Stuart then would return to the Tri-Cities to be with his wife, Sant said.
Robinson painted a different picture for the jury in trial, saying his client left because his marriage was falling apart.
Robinson said there were accusations of infidelity and Tashia Stuart was “pursuing her own desires,” not conspiring with her husband, because she wanted him out of Hebert’s will.
Man acquitted, freed from jail in Pasco attempted murder trial
Kristin M. Kraemer
September 28, 2012
Franklin jurors deliberating Todd Stuart’s fate
Kristin M. Kraemer
September 27, 2012
The Bellingham Herald
Once jurors carefully review all 250 pieces of evidence introduced in Todd D. Stuart’s murder conspiracy trial, it will be clear he had a role in the 2011 death of his mother-in-law, the Franklin County prosecutor said Wednesday.
“We recognize there’s going to be questions and recognize there may be doubts, but if you look at the totality of all the evidence,” the jury must return verdicts of guilty, said Prosecutor Shawn Sant.
Attorney Jeffery Robinson disagreed, telling jurors in closing arguments that “there is a truckload of evidence that Tashia Stuart killed her mother for no good reason and for no good excuse,” but nothing to show Todd Stuart was involved with it.
“Guilt by association. Presumption of guilt. Those are the shortcuts I’m asking you not to take,” said Robinson, adding that the person responsible for planning Judy Hebert’s death was not within the courtroom’s four walls Wednesday. “Todd Stuart is not guilty and we’re asking you to declare that.”
Stuart’s fate now is in the hands of a Franklin County Superior Court jury.
The 12 jurors left the courtroom at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to begin deliberations. After receiving 250 pieces of evidence to review about an hour later, they decided to go home at 3:50 p.m. and start fresh this morning.
The trial started Sept. 10 with jury selection, and the first evidence was presented Sept. 20.
Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Sant wrapped up his case Wednesday morning with more testimony from Pasco Detective Brad Gregory and Hebert’s ex-husband, Rolfe Hebert.
Robinson then announced he would rest without calling any witnesses.
Stuart has denied any involvement in planning the March 3, 2011, fatal shooting, or an alleged attempt to kill Hebert weeks before.
By not putting on a defense, Robinson is leaving it to the jury to decide if the state met its burden and presented enough evidence to prove Stuart is guilty.
Hebert, 58, was shot twice inside her Salmon Drive home. Her death came 11 days after she was hit on the head by a 31.8-pound plastic bin that fell from the rafters in her garage.
Tashia Stuart faces trial Oct. 24 on one count of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. She has claimed self-defense and said her mother came at her with an ax.
Sant alleges that the Stuarts’ conspiracy to kill Hebert started long before the garage incident.
The couple, along with Tashia’s 7-year-old daughter, moved to Pasco in January 2011 and quickly took advantage of Hebert’s heart and generosity, Sant said. The Stuarts had been in financial distress but knew — as evidenced by Hebert’s will that was found in between the mattresses of the Stuarts’ bed — that upon Hebert’s death they would inherit her property, which included the Salmon Drive home, he said.
The heavy bin falling on Hebert on Feb. 20, 2011, “was not caused by natural disaster, an earthquake or other act,” Sant said, but was orchestrated by the couple with the intent that Hebert would die from her injuries. Hebert sought medical treatment five days later when she still was in severe pain, and then the couple realized they needed to do something else fast, he said.
Stuart allegedly left town March 1, 2011, “because Judy had to be taken out because their plan was being discovered.”
Tashia Stuart was supposed to shoot her mother and claim self-defense, and eventually Todd Stuart would return to be with her, Sant told jurors in his 35-minute closing.
But on March 8, he contacted Pasco detectives, saying he had been reading the Herald online and saw that his wife was in jail and his mother-in-law was dead. Sant questioned if Stuart hadn’t been checking the news website every day “to see if she would carry it out.”
Whether Stuart went to California to hide out until the act was done or because he had reservations about the plan and thought his wife was “just crazy enough to do it,” he took “a substantial step” in committing the crime and should be convicted of both charges, the prosecutor said.
Robinson argued that his client is an innocent man, and the jury should declare him “not guilty” by refusing to accept Sant’s invitation “to judge this case by the presumption of guilt.” He said it scares him to death that jurors may follow the prosecutor’s request, when his client was trying to help Hebert by taking her to the hospital and later calling police once he learned of her death.
“Since when did, ‘He could have done it,’ ‘Maybe he did it,’ since when is that proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a criminal case when a member of our community is on trial for his freedom?” Robinson asked. “Please consider carefully what you’re being asked to do in the evaluation of this evidence because it’s shortcuts like the presumption of guilt, shortcuts like guilt by association that end up putting an innocent man in prison.”
Robinson repeated what Tashia Stuart told her ex-boyfriend days before Hebert’s death: “I want Todd out of the will.”
“Those are not the words of a woman conspiring with Todd Stuart. Those are the words of a woman pursuing her own desires,” he said.
One of the most important jobs a citizen will ever do is sit in judgment of a fellow community member, Robinson told the jury during his 45-minute closing.
“What else can you do to make sure that an innocent man is not convicted of a crime he did not do? … I have a novel suggestion, how about following the law?” he said. “Police and prosecutors are human beings. They are good people and they mean well, and sometimes they are wrong.”
“There is no presumption of guilt in this case,” Robinson added. “Apply the laws to the facts, and you will send Todd Stuart home.”
Kristin M. Kraemer
September 26, 2012
A man locked up with Todd D. Stuart for six weeks told jurors Tuesday that he shared their conversations about an alleged murder plot because he believed prosecutors had a weak case against his former cellmate without the information.
Clinton Wade Crowder testified for 50 minutes about the details he said Stuart divulged to him while the two were housed together in the Franklin County jail.
Stuart is accused of scheming with his wife to kill her mother so the couple could get the Pasco woman’s inheritance.
Crowder — whose record includes theft and extortion convictions, and now faces trial for second-degree identity theft — said his motivation for coming forward wasn’t to make a plea deal or have it dismissed.
The 49-year-old Richland native said he did it “because I had details of a murder, and probably without them there was a good chance (Stuart) wouldn’t be convicted.”
Stuart, 49, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder. His trial started Sept. 10, and could go to jurors this afternoon.
Stuart’s attorney, Jeffery Robinson of Seattle, told the court Tuesday that “assuming nothing else happens,” he plans to rest immediately after the state wraps up its case. That means Robinson — who impressed upon jurors during selection that his client is innocent until proven guilty and doesn’t need to put on a defense — would not call any witnesses.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant alleges Stuart was in on a plan to kill his mother-in-law, Judy Hebert. After an initial attempt in February 2011 failed, Stuart went on a California trip a couple weeks later with the expectation that his wife would stay behind and fatally shoot her mother, then claim self-defense, Sant has said.
Hebert, 59, died March 3, 2011, after being shot twice inside her Salmon Drive home. Her daughter, son-in-law and 7-year-old granddaughter had moved in with her just two months before.
Tashia Stuart has an Oct. 24 trial date on one count of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. She reportedly has said she fired the gun after Hebert came at her with an ax.
Charles Adney, Tashia Stuart’s ex-boyfriend and father of her daughter, on Tuesday recalled a phone conversation the two had just weeks before Hebert’s death. Stuart complained about her mother, said “that (expletive) should be dead” and asked him to be a witness to changing Hebert’s will, Adney testified.
Adney also told jurors that he thought Stuart was making a joke when she said, “Learn it from me, if you drop something on somebody’s head, make sure it’s round instead of flat.”
Tashia and Todd Stuart allegedly set up Hebert so she’d be in a certain spot in her garage when a heavy bin fell from the rafters.
Pasco Detective Brad Gregory said he located the bin that he believes hit Hebert, and it weighed 31.8 pounds.
The bin hit Hebert on the head and caused severe neck pain, but she waited several days before visiting Richland’s Kadlec Regional Medical Center because Todd Stuart allegedly told her it was only a minor injury.
Crowder said his cellmate told him the Stuarts had been in the garage under the pretext they were “storing items and moving things around.” Crowder claims that Todd Stuart said the plan had been for Hebert, who’d been drinking, to fall off the ladder after Tashia Stuart pushed the book bin from the rafters.
Locked up together 23 hours a day, Todd Stuart started talking to his cellmate after reading Herald stories on the case, Crowder said. He claimed his cellmate would say, “That’s not exactly what happened.”
And when Tashia Stuart was seen passing by their pod inside the jail, Todd Stuart would get upset and reportedly tell Crowder, “Well, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. She screwed this whole thing up.”
The cellmates were separated three months before Crowder wrote an Aug. 29 letter to Sant saying Todd Stuart told him details about the current case and he wanted to pass it on. He was interviewed the following day by Pasco Detective Sgt. Jeff Harpster.
Crowder said he “felt it was the best thing to do” to come forward, but now questions why he bothered because he’s been the subject of media stories that he claims have been inaccurate and his safety has been threatened by other inmates.
During a recess in Crowder’s testimony, Robinson asked for a mistrial because Crowder twice referenced statements Hebert reportedly made to others before her death. The court has ruled those statements can’t be used in this trial.
“Are you an honest man? Are you a truthful man?” Robinson asked Crowder, who twice replied, “I try to be.”
“So we can rely on what you told us today as the truth because you are an honest man and truthful man?” Robinson followed up.
“That will have to be the jury’s decision. … I cannot answer that,” Crowder said.
Todd Stuart’s DNA found on gun that killed mother-in-law
September 25, 2012
Todd D. Stuart’s DNA was found on the gun that killed his mother-in-law, but a forensic expert testified Monday that doesn’t prove Stuart ever handled the gun.
Todd Stuart isn’t charged with killing Hebert. Instead, he’s on trial in Franklin County Superior Court with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder about a week before Judy Hebert’s death.
Prosecutors claim Todd Stuart lured his mother-in-law to her garage where his wife Tashia was hiding in the rafters with an 18-pound bin of books to dropped on her. Hebert was injured but not killed.
His estranged wife Tashia L. Stuart is charged with shooting her mother to death a week later.
Washington State Patrol forensic scientist Anna Wilson testified Monday that DNA from Todd and Tashia Stuart and Hebert were found on the revolver. But Wilson said there is no way to prove how Todd Stuart’s DNA ended up on the weapon or how long it was there.
She said she analyzed a number of pieces of evidence from the shooting, and the gun was the only item that had a sample that matched Todd Stuart’s DNA.
However, Wilson said that she could not say how Todd Stuart’s DNA ended up on the weapon or how long it had been there.
“If you live in a house around other items, it’s not uncommon to have your DNA on those items,” she said.
Also, the samples taken from the gun were mixed, which increases the likelihood there were other individuals who may have had DNA on the weapon but didn’t provide test samples to compare to, Wilson said.
Forensic Detective Robert Benson with the Richland Police Department testified Monday that text messages sent by Tashia Stuart to Todd Stuart in the days before Hebert’s death indicate the couple’s relationship was in turmoil.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson of Seattle said his client wasn’t involved in any plot, is estranged from his wife and was trying to get away from his troubled marriage when Hebert was killed.
Benson examined two cellphones, including one belonging to Tashia Stuart.
Her phone contained text messages sent to her husband just days before Hebert’s death saying things such as “Please come home,” “I love you do you still love me?” and “Is it because I haven’t gone to see a shrink?”
Todd Stuart’s occasional replies voiced his desire to get away and sort out the relationship, he said.
Mitch Nassen, another forensic scientist from the state crime lab, testified about his examination of the crime scene after Hebert’s death.
He said the blood spatters found in the house show Hebert was likely incapacitated after she was first shot, damaging her thumb and sending a bullet fragment into her spine.
“Judy (Hebert) was probably just outside her bedroom door when she sustained the shot to her thumb,” Nassen said. “I don’t think she had any real purposeful movement after that.”
An emergency physician at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and a registered nurse who worked at the medical clinic Hebert used for health care testified briefly Monday afternoon.
The doctor said he examined Hebert on Feb. 25 after the bin of books fell on her in her garage, giving her neck and head injuries.
The nurse said she took a call from Hebert in late February asking for a refill on her pain medication as a result of the injury.
Testimony began Thursday in the case and is expected to wrap up this week. Tashia Stuart’s trial is scheduled Oct. 24.
Attorneys review text messages in Todd Stuart trial
September 24, 2012
A man accused of trying to kill his wife’s adoptive mother in Pasco last year believed his marriage was falling apart and left town two days before the murder, according to his attorney.
Todd Stuart’s attorney, Jeff Robinson, says Todd and Tashia Stuart got in a heated argument through “a plethora” of text messages two days before the Pasco murder, as Todd left Pasco to go to California.
Todd Stuart is charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Judy Hebert.
Hebert was shot to death in her Pasco home on March 3rd, 2011.
Tashia Stuart is charged with murder in Hebert’s death.
After Todd Stuart left Pasco, he and Tashia appeared to get in an argument about their relationship on their cell phones through text messages.
Jeff Robinson read some of the texts this afternoon.
“Todd Stuart writes to Tashia: Time for you to grow up and be responsible and do your part… And less than half a minute later, Tashia Stuart responds and says: What did I do wrong? All I know is I got up and you were gone, nobody knew you left and you haven’t talked to me all day.” said Robinson.
Prosecutors believe Todd Stuart was part of a plot to kill Judy Hebert.
They believe he and Tashia tried to kill her less than two weeks before the murder by dropping a bin of books on her head in her home.
Robinson says Todd Stuart was not part of any plan or conspiracy to kill Hebert.
He believes Tashia Stuart acted alone.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue tomorrow.
Tashia Stuart’s trial is scheduled to start next month.
Prosecutor in Pasco murder case says defendant’s wife researched probate law
September 22, 2012
PASCO — Tashia Stuart appeared to research probate law in Washington and travel plans on the internet the day before her mother was shot, according to court testimony Friday.
Her estranged husband, Todd Stuart, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly plotting with his wife to kill her mother, Judy Hebert, for the inheritance.
Todd Stuart, 49, is accused of plotting to help kill Hebert less than a month before her actual death, when a bin of books fell on her head. He had left for California when Hebert was shot dead in her home March 3, 2011.
Tashia Stuart is charged with first-degree murder with aggravated circumstances in the shooting and is claiming self-defense.
She goes to trial next month, but much of the testimony as the prosecution built its case in Todd Stuart’s trial Friday in Franklin County Superior Court in Pasco was about her actions.
Three computers and several flashdrives were collected by detectives from Hebert’s home, where her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter had moved in two months before her death.
They showed that in February, someone signed into a computer under Tashia Stuart’s user name and opened different versions of Hebert’s will and power of attorney, according to Benton County Detective Larry Smith, the computer forensics expert in the case.
That was shortly after a 32-pound bin of books fell on Hebert’s head in the garage Feb. 20.
Less than two weeks later, in the early morning hours of the day before Hebert was shot, Tashia Stuart’s user name was logged into a computer as internet searches were done on Washington probate law, including the law that applies to lost or destroyed wills. The same website was first visited Feb. 22, two days after the bin of books dropped on Hebert.
In the same March 2 internet session that probate law was researched, hotel sites and a map of Springfield, Ore., were visited.
In opening arguments Thursday, Prosecutor Shawn Sant said he planned to show that Todd Stuart’s departure from Pasco was part of the murder plot. The couple feared that they would be linked to the bin of books incident and that if Todd Stuart left town Tashia Stuart could set up a crime scene and claim self defense, Sant said.
However, defense attorney Jeffery Robinson of Seattle said he would show that Todd Stuart left town because his marriage was falling apart and that his estranged wife acted alone in allegedly killing Hebert.
Evidence collected from Tashia Stuart’s bedroom in a search after Hebert’s shooting included copies of a handwritten will and a living will for Hebert found under Tashia Stuart’s mattress, said Pasco detective William Parramore.
Parramore also found a sketch of what appeared to be Hebert’s garage on shelves in Tashia Stuart’s room, he said.
Forensic pathologist Daniel Selove also testified Friday about Hebert’s autopsy.
Hebert, 58, was shot twice. One wound to the chest was superficial, but the other one killed her, he said.
Her left thumb also appeared to have been hit by a bullet, possibly when she lifted her hand in front of her chest, he said.
He also described several other injuries, including a cut of almost two inches to the back of her head and small cuts and scrapes on her face and neck. Those injuries could have happened anytime from within a few hours of the shooting to the time of her death, he said.
He also found her scalp was bruised behind her left ear, he said.
The trial will continue Monday and is expected to conclude midweek.