Dateline   |  July 12, 2013

'A Cold December Morning,' Part 9

Clay Starbuck's trial begins.  Prosecution witnesses testify that clay had it out for his ex-wife and told them he knew she would be violently murdered.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> narrator: every trial for murder has this simple question at its core. whose version of the truth will the jury believe? and in the case of chanin starbuck , the two competing realities set for display could not have stood in starker contrast.

>> we have been waiting over a year for this moment.

>> i guess you could say i'm on a mission. i want him put away.

>> narrator: the divided family couldn't have been farther apart in this small spokane county courtroom when the trial began in may 2013 . the prosecution set out to prove that clay starbuck was a jealous, controlling and ultimately violent man who murdered his devout and long serving ex-wife. well the defense prepared to argue that chanin herself recklessly courted danger and quite possibly died at the hands of one of the many strangers she met online for sex. to chanin starbuck 's friends and family, who heard in advance what the defense had planned, it sounded like an old-fashioned smear campaign.

>> that's all they had to go on. that's the only thing that they could turn chanin into was this awful person.

>> she wasn't a sexual deviant . she wasn't -- she wasn't running around sleeping with everybody in deer park and spokane.

>> narrator: the state presented its case first, argued in court by deputy prosecutor larry steinmets. and he began not with sex, but that other less titillating root of all evil , money. the jury heard from summer starks that chanin didn't have any.

>> with respect to ms. starbuck 's financial situation, how would you define that?

>> dire.

>> do you know whether ms. starbuck had been receiving any child support or spousal maintenance from mr. starbuck during that time period ?

>> she had told me she did not.

>> narrator: clay owed more than $9,000 in back child support , eliminate the ex and his financial obligations to her would end. she had a sex life , like the romantic kind that sometimes produces jealousy. the other age old motive for murder.

>> ms. starbuck was now a single woman, dating other men, much to the chagrin and display of the defendant, clay starbuck .

>> narrator: chanin's newfound romantic freedom enranged clay, said the prosecution. one of clay's friends testified that clay seemed unnaturally obsessed with his ex-wife's personal life .

>> he basically gave me a litany of things about chanin, about what she was doing and how she was seeing lots of over men.

>> narrator: and one of the kids teachers testify that he heard clay predict something that sounded to her quite chilling.

>> he said i wouldn't be surprised if we found her dead. i wouldn't be surprised if we found her with her throat slit open.

>> narrator: then the view from the detectives who testified how it seemed to them clay was just a little too eager to direct their suspicions away from himself and towards some anonymous online lover.

>> i don't very often have people pushing at me a piece so much that it pushes everything else, all the other information out. he was just constantly pushing that at me.

>> narrator: jealous, resentful and on the morning of december 1, luring chanin out of her house with a phony story about a broken down car. remember, clay texted chanin and asked her to take the kids to school and then shut off his phone so as to avoid detection, a killer laying a trap.

>> getting the children out of the house, staking out the house, entering the house, waiting for ms. starbuck to return.

>> narrator: they played that snippet of a 911 call that the prosecution said confirmed the time of the attack.

>> 911 what are you reporting.

>> narrator: then an expert told the jury about the dna they found on chanin's neck.

>> was this fpr match that you describe an exact match to clay starbuck and the male blood line of his family?

>> yes.

>> narrator: the dna had to be clay's. he was the one with the weak alibi and detectives had already cleared his sons, so the prosecutoor called them as a witness anyway.

>> what time would you normally go to school?

>> it was just after 9:00.

>> on december 1 of 2011 , did you work that day? it would have been a thursday.

>> yes i would have.

>> narrator: and someone else investigators say was cleared by his alibi. john kenline, the married teacher was forced to appear. to admit he had been unfaithful with chanin.

>> we engaged in a sexual relationship , yes.

>> but kenline was not here to be shamed, but to testify about curious messages from chanin's phone, messages sechb s sent long after the 911 call.

>> can you read that?

>> did you stop by question mark , question mark , question mark . do you want to come over tonight?

>> narrator: messages that could only have been sent by chanin's kill killer. and you believe she's dead?

>> we believe she's deceased and someone is using her cell phone to communicate.

>> and to prove it must have been clay who sent these messages, they entered into evidence this seemingly innocuous text message at about 3:00 p.m . that amp.

>> at 3:06 chanin call to logan's cell phone . send marsh a note, dad will be there in ten minutes. who besides his mother might know the nickname march? the youngest starbuck , marshall came to the stand.

>> how often would your dad call you marsh?

>> yes, and he would call me son and marshall.

>> but he did call you marsh a lot?

>> yes, it had been an intimate act, a man killing the mother of his children. and then staging a sex crime . and as evidence of clay starbuck 's twisted state of mind , the prosecution offered this final piece of the puzzle. detectives said they found chanin's death certificate on a wall in clay's house pinned up like a trophy.

>> as a reminder, she's no longer in my life and she's no longer going to cause me any misery or pain.

>> narrator: so no smoking gun, but a pile of circumstantial evidence , deep enough the prosecution hoped to bury any chance of acquittal.

>> at the heart of this killing, and i would submit the motive, greed, anger, obsession, and jealousy.

>> narrator: and through it all, clay and his defenders waited to tell an entirely different story about a risky life and an unsolved murder. 3 f2