Tashia Stuart's phone had several brief calls after shooting

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJune 19, 2013 

Six minutes after a 911 hang-up call was made from a west Pasco home and just minutes before police knocked on the front door, Tashia Stuart had several brief phone calls on her cellphone and sent a couple of urgent text messages to a friend.

A Walla Walla police detective who specializes in computer forensics said Wednesday that he was asked to examine Stuart's phone after her mother was found shot dead inside their house.

Detective Mike Boettcher, whose full digital report probably exceeded 5,000 physical pages, focused on two shorter versions with texts and calls that either originated from or were received by Stuart's cellphone in the days leading up to her mother's March 3, 2011, death.

Stuart, 40, is on trial in Franklin County Superior Court for allegedly killing Judy Hebert. She claims that she was defending herself when she pulled the trigger, killing her 58-year-old mother with one bullet to the chest.

Dispatchers received a call at 2:24 p.m. that afternoon. A woman, possibly Hebert, said two short, inaudible sentences before the call was disconnected.

A dispatcher called back and got Stuart, who said the smoke alarm went off while she was changing the battery. Stuart assured the dispatcher all was OK, but dispatch protocol required that an officer be sent to the home.

Before Officer Kevin Erickson arrived about 10 minutes later -- and while Hebert reportedly was dead on the master bedroom floor -- Stuart received a call at 2:29 p.m. from a contact in her phone known as "Mr. Ed."

At 2:30 p.m. she tried to call him back, and at 2:31 p.m. she dialed a different man but the call only lasted one second, Boettcher said.

Stuart then sent a text to Mr. Ed saying, "Call me ASAP," according to Boettcher's testimony. Her texts to Edward Hastie of Idaho were signed with "SHAZAM."

That text was followed a minute later at 2:33 p.m. with another telling Hastie "it's an er," likely meaning an emergency.

Hastie responded at 3:51 p.m. saying, "Let me know what's going on if you can." However, Stuart was being held by police at that time for questioning in Hebert's shooting.

Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. Her trial started May 28.

On the witness stand, Boettcher said text messages will remain on a person's phone until the memory becomes full and the texts are knocked out by older ones, or they're deleted and written over by new data so those texts can't be recovered.

He also read through a number of the total 194 texts between Stuart and her husband, Todd. He left the Salmon Drive home in the two weeks between Hebert's head injury from a falling book bin and her actual death.

On March 1, 2011, Stuart wrote her husband that Hebert was screaming at her "about all the money we owe her and how am I going to pay her for anything."

Stuart pleaded with her husband to tell her what was going on and whether he was leaving her. She also said many times that she couldn't find her Walmart card or truck keys, and that she needed to go to the doctor and get medications because she wasn't feeling well.

Stuart said she was afraid Hebert was going to hurt her and, because she couldn't leave, planned to sleep in the truck overnight with her 7-year-old daughter.

"Are you just spending the night away from here to get away from the stress of her? Do you love me still?" asked Stuart, often signing texts to Todd Stuart with "I love my hubby forever."

Tashia Stuart told her husband on March 1 that Hebert was threatening to shut off their cellphones if they didn't give her money for the phone bill, then two days later said, "She's gonna beat me if she finds out your phone is working again."

She further told him at 4 a.m. the day Hebert died that there was "major trouble" at home and her mother was threatening to put her in jail because of things Todd Stuart allegedly did to the older woman's computer.

Prosecutors had thought they'd wrap up their case this week, but said Wednesday that they will go into next week.

One delay is with Stuart's interview with Pasco detectives after the fatal shooting.

The defense said they've reviewed a transcript of the videotaped interview and are OK with the first 87 pages, but suggest the following 200 pages be heavily redacted.

Judge Cameron Mitchell now must read the entire transcript and the recommendations. He's expecting to take arguments from both sides Friday -- which could go line-by-line -- before ruling on what the jury can hear.

Then, prosecutors must get a new transcript made minus the redactions and have the video edited. A copy of the transcript will be given to jurors while they watch the video, but won't be admitted as evidence for them to take into deliberations.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said that's a big part of what is pushing their case into next week. Pasco Detective Brad Gregory will be the state's last witness and will be called to introduce the interview, he said.

Lawyer Bob Thompson told the court they were hoping to get Todd Stuart on the stand Tuesday.

Todd Stuart returned to California last fall after he was acquitted by a Franklin County jury of conspiring to kill his mother-in-law with his wife. He has been subpoenaed by the defense in Tashia Stuart's case, though it's been reported at previous hearings he is weary about returning to Washington.

Thompson said he and Sant received an email from Todd Stuart saying he plans to assert his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself on certain questions.

Sant said he doesn't think "it's a good use of resources" to fly Stuart in when they know he will plead the Fifth and likely only say his name before the jury. Stuart and his attorney have said he may be subject to further jeopardy if he testifies, and could face other charges that weren't pursued originally, Sant told the court.

Mitchell said he will have to hear from Stuart and his lawyer about their concerns before making a determination about his testimony.

The jury is scheduled to return to the Franklin County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. today.

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