A career criminal claims murder suspect Todd D. Stuart opened up to him while the two were cellmates and told him about a plan to kill his mother-in-law to inherit the victim's money and property.
The new information given to Pasco police just one week ago was included in documents filed Thursday to support amended charges against Stuart.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant has said all along he would add a murder charge to Stuart's case if he took it to trial.
Now, with jurors set to be called in Monday to Franklin County Superior Court, Sant said he's waited long enough to see if Stuart might plead guilty to the original charge. He gave the court an expanded, six-page affidavit of probable cause supporting the additional charge.
Judge Cameron Mitchell found the information was sufficient to warrant a jury trial. He denied a defense motion to dismiss the case, but acknowledged that Stuart's lawyer, Jeffery Robinson of Seattle, will be allowed to challenge the credibility of the new witness.
Stuart, 49, pleaded innocent Thursday to attempted first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder.
"Mr. Stuart's defense is still, 'I did nothing,' " Robinson said.
The trial is scheduled to start Monday with jury selection taking several days. It then will take a recess until Sept. 18, when opening statements will be given by attorneys.
Stuart and his estranged wife, Tashia L. Stuart, are charged in the March 2011 death of Judy Hebert.
Sant suggested joining the two matters for trial, saying it is best for "judicial economy" because they have the same arguments and the same testimony for rebuttal purposes.
Robinson argued that he's spent six months developing a defense for Todd Stuart based on his client going to trial alone. He added that he will be introducing evidence that absolutely is not admissible in Tashia Stuart's trial, and also raised the issue of spousal immunity and privilege.
Mitchell ruled that it "makes some logical sense" to join the cases, but said it's not appropriate now considering the timing with Todd Stuart's trial starting in days and his wife's scheduled Oct. 24.
Hebert, 58, died after being shot inside her Salmon Drive home. Her daughter, son-in-law and 7-year-old granddaughter had moved in with her just two months before.
Tashia Stuart has claimed self-defense, saying she fired the gun after Hebert came at her with an ax.
Until Thursday, Todd Stuart was accused only of plotting to help kill Hebert less than a month before her actual death. He moved out of the home shortly before and went to California.
The new court document claims Stuart told cellmate Clinton Wade Crowder that his wife planned to kill her mother and he was to help so they could get Hebert's inheritance.
Crowder, a reported con man whose criminal history dates back more than two decades, told Pasco Detective Sgt. Jeff Harpster on Aug. 30 that he'd been housed in the Franklin County jail with Stuart for six weeks. Harpster went to meet with Crowder after the department received a letter from him claiming to have information about Stuart's case.
Crowder has been in jail since Oct. 1, 2011, on a charge of second-degree identity theft, along with two out-of-county warrants and failures to appear in court. His bail is $35,000 in the identity theft case.
Crowder's criminal history includes attempting to elude police, issuing a bad check, theft and assault.
He also has a second-degree extortion conviction for taking documents from another client's file 10 years ago during a meeting with his then-attorney, Bob Thompson. Crowder threatened the other client that he would make confidential information public if the victim didn't pay him $1,500.
Thompson is one of the court-appointed attorneys for Tashia Stuart.
Crowder now is represented by Matt Rutt on the identity theft case. They met in private Thursday afternoon with Sant, Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum, Robinson and Pasco Detective Brad Gregory so Crowder again could be interviewed.
When prosecutors moved to amend the charges against Stuart, Robinson said he questions the credibility of Crowder's statement.
Crowder has gone to Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake where they determined he is a substantial danger to others in committing criminal acts that jeopardize public safety and diagnosed him with a cognitive disorder and anti-social personality disorder, Robinson said.
A week ago, Crowder told Harpster that Todd Stuart claimed their plan was to keep Hebert "drunk as much as possible. Crowder stated that Stuart admitted his part in the attempt to kill Judy Hebert two weeks before she was killed as well as part in the planning of the murder where she was shot."
Stuart, in allegedly opening up to his cellmate, explained that he and Tashia were putting stuff away in the garage and tried to drop a tote full of books on Hebert. However, it didn't work because the bin only fell three to four feet. Hebert suffered a head injury and initially was convinced by her daughter and son-in-law not to go to the hospital, but she eventually went to get checked out, the court document said.
Stuart told Crowder the plan was for him to leave town and visit his sister in California while his wife stayed behind to shoot Hebert, the court document said.
"They had made a plan to make it look like self-defense. Tashia was to obtain a knife after shooting Hebert and tell the police she did it in self-defense," Detective Gregory wrote in the document. "However, Tashia had screwed it up. Stuart told Crowder if Tashia had not been arrested he would have returned from California."
"Stuart stated he had to be out of town because if he was there he would have been expected to protect his wife," the document also said. "Stuart said they would be unable to claim self-defense if he was there."