An estranged couple accused of conspiring to kill a Pasco woman last year appeared in court together Wednesday while their attorneys argued to try to prevent a child witness from testifying at the trials.
Todd Stuart, 49, and Tashia Stuart, 38, are charged in Franklin County Superior Court in Pasco for their alleged roles in Judy Hebert's death on March 3, 2011.
Todd Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly plotting with his wife to kill her mother for the inheritance. Jury selection began Monday, and a 15-member panel was seated Wednesday.
Tashia Stuart, charged with first-degree murder with aggravated circumstances, has her trial set for Oct. 24. She has claimed self-defense, saying she shot her mother after Hebert, 58, came at her with an ax.
Tashia Stuart's daughter, who was 7 at the time, was in Hebert's west Pasco home when Hebert was killed. Defense attorneys for both Stuarts say the child should not be allowed to testify because she's not competent to serve as a witness based on the unreliability of the statements she gave to police within hours of the shooting, and again six months later.
Judge Cameron Mitchell did not issue a ruling on the issue because the state still has one more witness to call. It wasn't clear after Wednesday's hearing if that would be done Tuesday or next Wednesday because of possible scheduling conflicts.
The court is not back in session until Tuesday. Jurors won't be called back until attorneys in Todd Stuart's case are ready for opening statements, which could be next Wednesday or Thursday.
On Wednesday, Robert Halon, a licensed psychologist from California who has been qualified as an expert witness in court cases in Washington, testified about his analysis of the two interviews conducted with the daughter at Kids Haven in Kennewick.
Two of the child's teachers, the step-mother she lived with for a year after the shooting and her grandfather's wife also testified about the child's behavior before and after the death of her grandmother.
Halon said there is no way to tell what the child actually saw on the day of the shooting because some of the information she said about things that happened is questionable, including saying she saw goblins and fairies and could see through a door.
"She talks about goblins, and the most vivid description she gives -- the one that obviously could not be true -- is that the goblin is standing in front of her with an ax," he said, adding that she said she told the goblin, "If you drop that ax on me, I'm definitely going to beat you up with salt."
Then the goblin apparently dropped the ax, which she said belonged to Hebert, her "Nana."
In the second interview, done in August 2011, the daughter reportedly changed her story, said she was lying the first time and claimed she saw her mother shoot Hebert, then get the ax out of the garage and place it next to Hebert, documents said.
Halon said the child was intermingling fantasy with reality and it was impossible to know if what she said was reliable because there were no follow-up questions.
"If she's describing goblins and she thinks she saw goblins, that would be an accurate description (to her)," Halon said. "But it's psychotic or fantastic and not reliable."
Prosecutor Shawn Sant asked if it's possible that the girl's memories about what happened changed because as she was going through the grieving process of losing her grandmother.
"All memory is narrative. All memory gets altered here and there along the way," Halon said. "But in this case, it's blatantly obvious the child has turned over upside down."
Halon said the child has a lot of guilt about her grandmother's death. Halon also said it would harm the child if she must testify against her mother.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org