PASCO, Wash. -- Prosecution and defense attorneys painted different pictures of Todd and Tashia Stuart during opening arguments Thursday in Pasco during Todd Stuart's trial on allegations he conspired to kill his mother-in-law Judy Hebert. Todd D. Stuart is charged with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder stemming from Hebert's March 2011 shooting death.
Hebert was shot by Tashia L. Stuart -- Hebert's daughter and Todd Stuart's reportedly estranged wife.
Tashia Stuart is charged with first-degree murder with aggravated circumstances and is set to face trial Oct. 24. She has claimed self-defense, saying she fired the gun after Hebert came at her with an ax.
Todd Stuart is accused of conspiring with his wife to kill Hebert by dropping an 18-gallon bin of books on the older woman's head in February 2011.
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Todd Stuart allegedly got Hebert to stand in a certain spot in the garage, while Tashia Stuart hid in the rafters to push the bin.
Todd Stuart was in Oakland, Calif., when Hebert was shot, but Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant told jury members during brief opening remarks Thursday that Stuart's departure from Pasco was part of the plot.
"They realized information was coming out to link them to this incident in the garage," Sant said. "The defendant in this case got desperate. He decided he'd better leave town. Why did he leave when he did? This was part of the ongoing plan. He left the area to give Tashia the opportunity to set up the crime scene and claim self-defense."
But defense attorney Jeffery Robinson of Seattle said Todd Stuart left because his marriage was falling apart.
He said voice mail and text messages between Todd and Tashia Stuart in the days leading up to Hebert's death show "anger, resentment and accusations of infidelity."
"These are people who are breaking up," Robinson said.
Robinson portrayed Tashia Stuart as a troubled woman alleged to have multiple personalities and difficulty maintaining relationships, and who acted alone in killing Hebert.
"Tashia had a daughter with a man named Charles Adney. He will describe that living with Tashia was a 'living hell,' " Robinson told the jury. "He will tell you about different personalities that came out in Tashia. The scariest, the one that told the most lies is called 'Mrs. Anonymous.' "
Robinson said that in a phone call between Tashia Stuart and Adney days before Hebert's death, Stuart tried to enlist Adney's help in falsifying a will and told him that she needed to go into her "Mrs. A. personality."
In the same phone call, Tashia Stuart reportedly said she wanted to cut Todd Stuart out of her mother's will or any inheritance, and claimed that Judy Hebert had raped Tashia Stuart's then 7-year-old daughter.
"She said, 'If I find out Todd was raping my daughter, too, I will get him, too,' " Robinson said.
Tashia Stuart was evaluated at Eastern State Hospital in December, and state psychologists said she appeared to be feigning psychological symptoms and incompetency.
Franklin County Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell, who is presiding over Todd Stuart's case, in February found Tashia Stuart competent to stand trial.
Robinson said Todd Stuart is a career military man who contacted police and cooperated in their investigation when he read about Hebert's murder on the Herald's website.
"He was not evasive in his conversation. He answered every question he was asked," Robinson said. "He did what you would expect an innocent man to do."
The crux of the conspiracy case is expected to be testimony by Clinton Wade Crowder, a Franklin County inmate who claims to have been Todd Stuart's jailhouse confidante.
Crowder contacted Sant in late August to say Stuart had told him details about the conspiracy to kill Hebert, including that Stuart's departure to California was part of the plan.
Robinson said Crowder is a "career criminal" with a 20-year history of cases involving lies and manipulation, and that his story doesn't match the facts in the case.
Crowder is expected to testify today.