A 48-year-old man accused of plotting to kill his mother-in-law less than a month before her actual death has hired a Seattle lawyer to defend him in the Franklin County case.
Todd David Stuart briefly appeared in court Thursday, but the hearing was continued because his new attorney, Jeffery Robinson, wasn't able to make it.
Robinson is flying over today and is likely to meet with his new client in jail. However, Prosecutor Shawn Sant said court administration was not able to schedule a hearing at the same time.
Another Franklin County Superior Court hearing date was not set. Sant told Judge Cameron Mitchell that Robinson has indicated he has no problem with the current trial date of Sept. 12.
"Mr. Robinson is going to represent you, is that correct?" Mitchell asked the defendant, because there was no official notice of substitution in the record yet and he was left standing alone behind the defense table.
"Yes, your honor," Stuart replied.
Stuart has been in jail on $500,000 bail since he was returned to Franklin County on Feb. 22. He was arrested on a warrant in California in January.
Stuart had been represented by a court-appointed attorney, Shane Silverthorn of Ellensburg, since April 3.
He is accused of conspiring with his wife to try to kill Judy Hebert a couple of weeks before Hebert allegedly was shot and killed by her daughter.
Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder; however, he has been warned he could face a murder charge if he doesn't accept a plea offer before the case goes to trial.
Tashia Stuart, 39, is charged with first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances for the March 3, 2011, death of her mother.
Tashia Stuart has claimed self-defense, saying she shot her mother after Hebert came at her with an ax.
She also was in court Thursday morning.
Her defense attorney, Bob Thompson of Pasco, gave Sant and the court a list of three expert witnesses -- dealing with child interview techniques, DNA and blood spatter analysis -- they may call at trial.
Thompson also said some of the state's witnesses won't meet with his investigator without a prosecutor present, so Sant said he and Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum would work with the defense on that.
Her trial is set for Oct. 24.
Todd Stuart, his wife and her 7-year-old daughter moved to the Tri-Cities to live with Hebert in January 2011. He apparently left his wife three days before Hebert was killed, then contacted Pasco detectives March 8, 2011, when he learned of the homicide on the Tri-City Herald website.
Robinson's background includes representing Christopher Orange when his Pasco murder case was sent back by the Washington Supreme Court in 2004 for a new trial.
Robinson and then-Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe worked out an agreement, which had Orange entering an Alford plea to reduced crimes for a 1994 shooting in a Pasco gas station parking lot. The court then went with Robinson's requested 18-year sentence, instead of the prosecutor's recommendation, which called for an additional six years.
Robinson also was hired by Grant County to monitor requirements of a 2005 court settlement after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the county over its beleaguered public defender system.
The lawyer came in and requested the county commissioners provide training, which led to decreased caseloads for the public defenders and increased face time with defendants, particularly those in the jail.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org