Tashia Stuart to also face attempted murder charge

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 28, 2013 

A Pasco woman charged with killing her mother will face an attempted murder charge for allegedly dropping a bin of books on her mother's head two weeks before shooting her.

Franklin Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell also ruled Wednesday that it's too soon to decide to move Tashia Stuart's trial out of the Tri-Cities because of extensive media coverage. Mitch-ell delayed a decision on tossing out some evidence in the case.

Stuart is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of her mother, Judy Hebert, 58, in March 2011.

On Wednesday, Mitchell held an almost daylong hearing on a series of motions in the case.

Stuart's trial is set for April 15.

Mitchell agreed to Prosecutor Shawn Sant's request to add the charge of second-degree attempted murder. That stems from an incident two weeks before the fatal shooting when a heavy container of books was dropped on Herbert in her garage.

"(Tashia Stuart) knew that if we proceeded to trial, the charges would be amended to include the incident in the garage," Sant said.

Her 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. They had moved in with Hebert in January 2011.

Tashia Stuart has claimed she shot her mother because she was going to attack her during an argument about money. But Stuart has said she wasn't in the garage when the books fell.

Her attorneys have argued that those charges should have separate trials.

"What we need to know, especially with how discovery has been delayed and dribbled in, is what evidence they have of Ms. Stuart physically dropping the books on her mother," said Seattle-based attorney Peter Connick.

Mitchell said there is evidence of the incident from prior hearings and the trial involving her husband.

And he ruled that concerns about Tashia Stuart facing both charges simultaneously don't outweigh the ability of a jury to consider them on their own merits.

"I think it's reasonable to think a jury could separate the two," Mitchell said.

Connick said combining the two charges in one trial could raise problems with a jury if Stuart testifies to self-defense on the murder charge but doesn't testify on the attempted murder charge.

Mitchell said he had to weigh several factors in his decision to not separate the charges, including the court's time and the strength of the charges. He ultimately decided the charges are interrelated.

The defense also asked Mitchell to throw out evidence from Tashia Stuart's cellphone.

Pasco attorney Robert Thompson said authorities didn't have a warrant for the memory card in Tashia Stuart's phone and it's not indicated on evidence lists.

"I haven't heard anything indicating the SD card was in the phone when it was seized," he said.

Walla Walla Police Detective Mike Boettcher, who is director of the agency's computer forensics laboratory, testified Wednesday that data on the memory card is consistent with what he would find on one used in Tashia Stuart's phone. However, there aren't markers or other identifiers to tie an SD card to a specific phone.

Sant said officers seized the phone in its entirety and it wasn't tampered with before it reached Boettcher for analysis.

Mitchell said he would need to review his notes from prior hearings before making a decision on that issue. He also will allow two Pasco police officers to testify on the issue.

Thompson also argued Wednesday that the trial needs to be moved because of the amount of coverage of her and her husband's cases. Mitchell said media coverage is a relevant issue but he agreed with Sant that it is too early to make that decision.

-- Reporter Michelle Dupler contributed to this report.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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