Judge OKs evidence redactions in Tashia Stuart murder trial

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJune 21, 2013 

PASCO -- When jurors return to court Tuesday for Tashia L. Stuart's continuing murder trial, they will watch a heavily redacted video interview with Pasco detectives.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys met with Judge Cameron Mitchell for two hours Friday to discuss a long list of questionable statements.

Mitchell granted a majority of the defense's proposed redactions. He noted that many of them were comments on Stuart's veracity, which is for the jury to determine, while other chunks of text referred to Stuart's daughter, who isn't being called as a witness in this trial.

Stuart, 40, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

She's accused of dropping a heavy bin of books from the rafters onto her mother's head on Feb. 20, 2011. Judy Hebert sought medical treatment for severe head and neck pain after that incident.

Stuart then fatally shot her 58-year-old mother on March 3, 2011. She claims she was defending herself, and grabbed the gun from a case inside her mother's gun safe when Hebert was trying to attack her with a hatchet.

Stuart, her 7-year-old daughter and her husband, Todd, moved in to Hebert's Salmon Drive home in early 2011. Todd Stuart left the home in the days before his mother-in-law's death, and was acquitted by a jury last year of having any involvement in a murder conspiracy.

After Hebert's body was discovered inside the home following a 911 hang-up call, Hebert was held in a patrol car outside the home before going to the police station for questioning. Her lengthy interview was with detectives Brad Gregory and William Parramore.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said the original interview, with pauses, is about six hours long. The redactions approved Friday could come close to cutting that time in half.

Defense lawyer Peter Connick used a 280-plus-page transcript of the interview to highlight the questions and statements he wanted removed.

He consistently argued that the detectives "are offering an opinion as to truth or honesty or what the facts are" without asking a question of Stuart.

"The problem I have is the scene doesn't match with what you're telling me. Something bothers me here. I don't understand," Gregory said at one point. That comment was removed.

Another redacted part related to the phone calls Stuart took in the minutes after the initial 911 call, and how she told the dispatcher and her neighbors that nothing was wrong.

"When you do things like that, it makes guys like me think you're trying to hide something," Gregory told Stuart.

She responded: "I'm not trying to hide anything."

Gregory also told Stuart that after interviewing her for a while, he had been paying attention to her voice and didn't think it was the same one on the hang-up call. He suggested it was Hebert telling her daughter "Give me that," referring to the gun before she was shot with it.

Connick argued that it's "complete opinion testimony" and should be stricken because Gregory wasn't getting the answer he wanted. The judge agreed.

Gregory was "advancing his theory of the case to see if he can get an admission," Connick told the court a few times.

Sant said "the whole purpose of police interviews is an accusation." He often replied that the statements should remain because Stuart was engaging in conversation with the detectives, or the information already is in evidence and has been testified to by other witnesses.

Sant also said the defense did not refer to a rule or court opinion that says investigators cannot ask for this information from witnesses at the appropriate time.

He occasionally agreed to the defense proposals, including a statement made by Parramore when they were trying to find out why called 911 and why.

"If your mom was chasing you, was she scared? If she truly was going to kill you and she was chasing you, why did she call the police?" the detective told Stuart. "If I'm going to kill Brad, I'm not going to call the police. I'm going to kill him."

Some of the redactions included full pages. However, Sant said he logistically wasn't sure he could edit out short parts of sentences from the video.

Mitchell simply responded, "That's the court's ruling." He later clarified that if Sant couldn't remove a portion of a comment, he would have to take out the whole sentence.

The trial is in recess Monday.

Prosecutors hope to wrap up their case Tuesday after testimony from Rolfe Hebert, the victim's ex-husband, and Gregory, who now is a Pasco patrol sergeant but was lead detective on the case. They also may call a couple of other officers.

The defense anticipates it will take about two days to present witnesses. The jury might get the case at the end of next week, though the attorneys said they might ask to hold off on giving closing arguments until July 1.

The trial started May 28.

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