Pasco murder case should be tossed, lawyers say

Tri-City HeraldDecember 19, 2012 

— The lawyers for a Pasco woman charged with killing her mother nearly two years ago want the case dismissed, citing “governmental mismanagement” for failing to turn over crime lab reports and evidence.

Tashia L. Stuart is being forced to “choose between her right to effective assistance of counsel and her right to a speedy trial,” attorney Peter Connick said in his defense motion.

Stuart is scheduled for trial Feb. 11 in Franklin County Superior Court.

She is charged with first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances for the March 3, 2011, death of Judy Hebert.

The defense says it won’t be ready for trial in less than two months because of delays in getting interviews with state witnesses and files on blood spatter and ballistics tests.

Connick said he and co-counsel, Bob Thompson, have been asking for this information since Nov. 1 at the very latest, if not earlier. Their expert needs at least 60 days to review the files and do his own testing before completing a report.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant argued that the state has complied with defense requests, including making witnesses available for interviews.

Sant said a lot of this information “was separately requested and only lately requested,” and the prosecutor’s office has provided the lab notes and reports to the defense as soon as it was received.

He blamed the Washington State Patrol crime lab’s peer review process for causing the delays. The testing has been done, Sant said, but the lab needed more time while forensic scientists looked over their colleagues reports.

“I think the state is doing what it can to get all this evidence as fast as possible from the crime lab. We can only do so much,” Sant said, noting that he was last told the reports would be done Jan. 7. “… I agree this is much later than we were originally told.”

But Connick questioned why it took more than 1 1/2 years into the case for tests to be done on the gun and bullets taken into evidence as part of the crime scene.

“At this point, I think the defense has been patient,” he said.

Connick said it’s unfair to the defense this close to trial to be receiving a 410-page forensic report on Dec. 12.

“This ‘I’m just too busy stuff’ just doesn’t hold water,” he said. “… There is no way we can go to trial on Feb. 11 with this stuff being dumped on us at eve of trial.”

Judge Cameron Mitchell didn’t rule on the dismissal today because prosecutors needed time to file a response. The defense motion was only filed Tuesday.

Another hearing will be scheduled in January.

Prosecutors allege Stuart killed her 58-year-old mother after the two women had been arguing over money.

Stuart has claimed self-defense, saying she shot Hebert after the victim came at her with an ax. Her 7-year-old daughter was in the Salmon Drive home at the time.

Stuart is being held in the Franklin County jail on $500,000 bail.

Sant announced today that since the defense rejected a plea offer, he will be adding a charge against Stuart for allegedly trying to kill her mother weeks before the woman’s actual death.

The specific charge will be filed later today, he said.

Stuart’s estranged husband, Todd Stuart, was acquitted in late September of plotting with his wife to kill Hebert so the couple could inherit the Pasco woman’s property.

Eleven days before Hebert’s death, she was hit on the head by a 31.8-pound plastic bin that fell from the rafters in her garage.

Sant claims they arranged for Hebert to be in a certain spot in the garage so she’d be severely hurt after Tashia allegedly pushed the bin.

For the full story, read Thursday’s Herald and

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