A man locked up with Todd D. Stuart for six weeks told jurors Tuesday that he shared their conversations about an alleged murder plot because he believed prosecutors had a weak case against his former cellmate without the information.
Clinton Wade Crowder testified for 50 minutes about the details he said Stuart divulged to him while the two were housed together in the Franklin County jail.
Stuart is accused of scheming with his wife to kill her mother so the couple could get the Pasco woman's inheritance.
Crowder -- whose record includes theft and extortion convictions, and now faces trial for second-degree identity theft -- said his motivation for coming forward wasn't to make a plea deal or have it dismissed.
Never miss a local story.
The 49-year-old Richland native said he did it "because I had details of a murder, and probably without them there was a good chance (Stuart) wouldn't be convicted."
Stuart, 49, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy to commit murder. His trial started Sept. 10, and could go to jurors this afternoon.
Stuart's attorney, Jeffery Robinson of Seattle, told the court Tuesday that "assuming nothing else happens," he plans to rest immediately after the state wraps up its case. That means Robinson -- who impressed upon jurors during selection that his client is innocent until proven guilty and doesn't need to put on a defense -- would not call any witnesses.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant alleges Stuart was in on a plan to kill his mother-in-law, Judy Hebert. After an initial attempt in February 2011 failed, Stuart went on a California trip a couple weeks later with the expectation that his wife would stay behind and fatally shoot her mother, then claim self-defense, Sant has said.
Hebert, 59, died March 3, 2011, after being shot twice 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 an Oct. 24 trial date on one count of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances. She reportedly has said she fired the gun after Hebert came at her with an ax.
Charles Adney, Tashia Stuart's ex-boyfriend and father of her daughter, on Tuesday recalled a phone conversation the two had just weeks before Hebert's death. Stuart complained about her mother, said "that (expletive) should be dead" and asked him to be a witness to changing Hebert's will, Adney testified.
Adney also told jurors that he thought Stuart was making a joke when she said, "Learn it from me, if you drop something on somebody's head, make sure it's round instead of flat."
Tashia and Todd Stuart allegedly set up Hebert so she'd be in a certain spot in her garage when a heavy bin fell from the rafters.
Pasco Detective Brad Gregory said he located the bin that he believes hit Hebert, and it weighed 31.8 pounds.
The bin hit Hebert on the head and caused severe neck pain, but she waited several days before visiting Richland's Kadlec Regional Medical Center because Todd Stuart allegedly told her it was only a minor injury.
Crowder said his cellmate told him the Stuarts had been in the garage under the pretext they were "storing items and moving things around." Crowder claims that Todd Stuart said the plan had been for Hebert, who'd been drinking, to fall off the ladder after Tashia Stuart pushed the book bin from the rafters.
Locked up together 23 hours a day, Todd Stuart started talking to his cellmate after reading Herald stories on the case, Crowder said. He claimed his cellmate would say, "That's not exactly what happened."
And when Tashia Stuart was seen passing by their pod inside the jail, Todd Stuart would get upset and reportedly tell Crowder, "Well, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She screwed this whole thing up."
The cellmates were separated three months before Crowder wrote an Aug. 29 letter to Sant saying Todd Stuart told him details about the current case and he wanted to pass it on. He was interviewed the following day by Pasco Detective Sgt. Jeff Harpster.
Crowder said he "felt it was the best thing to do" to come forward, but now questions why he bothered because he's been the subject of media stories that he claims have been inaccurate and his safety has been threatened by other inmates.
During a recess in Crowder's testimony, Robinson asked for a mistrial because Crowder twice referenced statements Hebert reportedly made to others before her death. The court has ruled those statements can't be used in this trial.
"Are you an honest man? Are you a truthful man?" Robinson asked Crowder, who twice replied, "I try to be."
"So we can rely on what you told us today as the truth because you are an honest man and truthful man?" Robinson followed up.
"That will have to be the jury's decision. ... I cannot answer that," Crowder said.