Lawyers want murder case against Pasco woman dismissed

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 20, 2012 

PASCO -- Lawyers for a Pasco woman charged with killing her mother almost 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 motion.

Stuart, 39, is accused in the March 2011 death of Judy Hebert. She's scheduled for trial Feb. 11 in Franklin County Superior Court.

But given the delays in getting interviews with state witnesses and files on blood and ballistics tests, the defense attorneys said Wednesday that it's unlikely they will be ready for trial in less than two months.

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

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

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 said it is "patently absurd" that it took more than 11/2 years into the case for tests to be done on the gun and bullets seized at the crime scene. He added that the defense has been patient in its repeated requests.

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."

Prosecutors allege Stuart killed her 58-year-old mother after the two women argued about money.

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

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 32-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.

Tashia Stuart has been charged with first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

However, Prosecutor Shawn Sant anticipates adding a count of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill Hebert weeks before her death.

The second charge should be filed today, Sant said, now that the defense has rejected a plea offer.

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

Another hearing will be scheduled in January.

Also Wednesday, Sant once again sought to admit several statements that Hebert made to her ex-husband, a friend and four neighbors after the bin of books fell on her head.

Hebert reportedly told others that she believed it was an attempt to kill her. She said she suspected the Stuarts were switching her medication.

Defense attorneys argued the statements were hearsay and not admissible.

In August, Mitchell agreed and ruled that only limited statements Hebert made to one neighbor to show her state of mind could be introduced at the trial because Hebert was claiming self-defense.

He said neighbor Deborah Severin would be allowed to say Hebert told her she was concerned for her safety around Stuart and her son-in-law and that she was afraid she could be bound up and not able to talk.

Severin also can testify about how Hebert set up a code word to let her know there was a problem.

Sant now is trying to get the statements in through a recently adopted state law that says a defendant may not kill a witness and then argue that the witness is not available to testify.

Sant said the "forfeiture by wrongdoing" doctrine applies because Stuart killed her mother as Hebert was calling 911 to report that her daughter had broken into her safe and stolen from her.

The killing then was clearly designed to prevent the victim from reporting and testifying, court documents said.

"We believe that the facts in this particular case support that. This defendant should not be able to prevail by being able to silence the victim," Sant said.

Since Hebert "is no longer here to testify," the state has to rely on statements the victim made to people in the days before her death "about all the concerns and fears she had in her life," he said.

Stuart's defense attorneys stood by their previous arguments that allowing Hebert's statements violates Stuart's constitutional right to confront her accuser.

Connick told the court that prosecutors are "begging the court" to develop its own balancing test and admit the dead woman's statements, even though "there was no specific intent in this case or even evidence of it. ... It doesn't apply and shouldn't be allowed."

The judge said he needs time to review the case laws.

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

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