Once jurors carefully review all 250 pieces of evidence introduced in Todd D. Stuart's murder conspiracy trial, it will be clear he had a role in the 2011 death of his mother-in-law, the Franklin County prosecutor said Wednesday.
"We recognize there's going to be questions and recognize there may be doubts, but if you look at the totality of all the evidence," the jury must return verdicts of guilty, said Prosecutor Shawn Sant.
Attorney Jeffery Robinson disagreed, telling jurors in closing arguments that "there is a truckload of evidence that Tashia Stuart killed her mother for no good reason and for no good excuse," but nothing to show Todd Stuart was involved with it.
"Guilt by association. Presumption of guilt. Those are the shortcuts I'm asking you not to take," said Robinson, adding that the person responsible for planning Judy Hebert's death was not within the courtroom's four walls Wednesday. "Todd Stuart is not guilty and we're asking you to declare that."
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Stuart's fate now is in the hands of a Franklin County Superior Court jury.
The 12 jurors left the courtroom at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to begin deliberations. After receiving 250 pieces of evidence to review about an hour later, they decided to go home at 3:50 p.m. and start fresh this morning.
The trial started Sept. 10 with jury selection, and the first evidence was presented Sept. 20.
Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Sant wrapped up his case Wednesday morning with more testimony from Pasco Detective Brad Gregory and Hebert's ex-husband, Rolfe Hebert.
Robinson then announced he would rest without calling any witnesses.
Stuart has denied any involvement in planning the March 3, 2011, fatal shooting, or an alleged attempt to kill Hebert weeks before.
By not putting on a defense, Robinson is leaving it to the jury to decide if the state met its burden and presented enough evidence to prove Stuart is guilty.
Hebert, 58, was shot twice inside her Salmon Drive home. Her death came 11 days after she was hit on the head by a 31.8-pound plastic bin that fell from the rafters in her garage.
Tashia Stuart faces trial Oct. 24 on one count of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. She has claimed self-defense and said her mother came at her with an ax.
Sant alleges that the Stuarts' conspiracy to kill Hebert started long before the garage incident.
The couple, along with Tashia's 7-year-old daughter, moved to Pasco in January 2011 and quickly took advantage of Hebert's heart and generosity, Sant said. The Stuarts had been in financial distress but knew -- as evidenced by Hebert's will that was found in between the mattresses of the Stuarts' bed -- that upon Hebert's death they would inherit her property, which included the Salmon Drive home, he said.
The heavy bin falling on Hebert on Feb. 20, 2011, "was not caused by natural disaster, an earthquake or other act," Sant said, but was orchestrated by the couple with the intent that Hebert would die from her injuries. Hebert sought medical treatment five days later when she still was in severe pain, and then the couple realized they needed to do something else fast, he said.
Stuart allegedly left town March 1, 2011, "because Judy had to be taken out because their plan was being discovered."
Tashia Stuart was supposed to shoot her mother and claim self-defense, and eventually Todd Stuart would return to be with her, Sant told jurors in his 35-minute closing.
But on March 8, he contacted Pasco detectives, saying he had been reading the Herald online and saw that his wife was in jail and his mother-in-law was dead. Sant questioned if Stuart hadn't been checking the news website every day "to see if she would carry it out."
Whether Stuart went to California to hide out until the act was done or because he had reservations about the plan and thought his wife was "just crazy enough to do it," he took "a substantial step" in committing the crime and should be convicted of both charges, the prosecutor said.
Robinson argued that his client is an innocent man, and the jury should declare him "not guilty" by refusing to accept Sant's invitation "to judge this case by the presumption of guilt." He said it scares him to death that jurors may follow the prosecutor's request, when his client was trying to help Hebert by taking her to the hospital and later calling police once he learned of her death.
"Since when did, 'He could have done it,' 'Maybe he did it,' since when is that proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a criminal case when a member of our community is on trial for his freedom?" Robinson asked. "Please consider carefully what you're being asked to do in the evaluation of this evidence because it's shortcuts like the presumption of guilt, shortcuts like guilt by association that end up putting an innocent man in prison."
Robinson repeated what Tashia Stuart told her ex-boyfriend days before Hebert's death: "I want Todd out of the will."
"Those are not the words of a woman conspiring with Todd Stuart. Those are the words of a woman pursuing her own desires," he said.
One of the most important jobs a citizen will ever do is sit in judgment of a fellow community member, Robinson told the jury during his 45-minute closing.
"What else can you do to make sure that an innocent man is not convicted of a crime he did not do? ... I have a novel suggestion, how about following the law?" he said. "Police and prosecutors are human beings. They are good people and they mean well, and sometimes they are wrong."
"There is no presumption of guilt in this case," Robinson added. "Apply the laws to the facts, and you will send Todd Stuart home."
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com