Dateline   |  July 12, 2013

'A Cold December Morning,' Part 10

The Starbuck defense team argues that investigators botched the case from the beginning.  Defense attorneys say Chanin led a dangerous online dating lifestyle.  Clay himself takes the stand.

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

>> narrator: clay starbuck , on trial for murdering his ex-wife had something big in his corner, something he believed would established reasonable doubt. chanin's lap top computer. it held evidence, he said of his ex-wife's dangerous secret life .

>> we're talking about casual encounters with people who aren't using real identities.

>> in fact, chanin's own children were convinced that one of those men must have been her killer.

>> and make no mistake, there were men that she talked to the day before.

>> narrator: that was the story the defense and the children were poised to tell in court. and then, a ruling from the judges. the evidence was inadmissible. the children's story, the activities reviewed in the lap top computer, the evidence pointing to other men chanin knew intimately, it was all too speculative, said the judge, too prejudicial, and it was out, the jury wouldn't hear it. suddenly at the defense table, the air went out.

>> i think the court was thinking, we don't want to make this a forum to run somebody who was murdered down. unfortunately, this isn't something that's just being made up. we didn't create this, these allegations.

>> narrator: clay starbuck 's lawyers needed a plan b. so they went after the murder investigation itself. pointing out in court, all the things investigators failed to do.

>> on the right hand, they found on one of the nails, what tested positive for blood. they didn't even look at it. in fact, you will hear from the crime lab , that they intentionally swabbed around the blood.

>> narrator: it was a recurring theme for the defense, they didn't test it. evidence collected but untouched by lab techs. and under cross-examination, detective rickets was pelted for making the dcision.

>> and if there was any potential trace evidence or any evidence on that, we don't know?

>> we don't, right.

>> because the crime lab didn't test it.

>> right.

>> but there were also issues with the evidence that was tested, said the defense. that cell phone for instance, the one the prosecution went to great lengths to say clay used after killing chanin.

>> they swabbed the facing of the cell phone . they got dna . and they got this dna and it's not his. unidentified male. the phone doesn't have mr. starbuck 's dna .

>> narrator: and more unidentified dna found on chanin's neck, where she was strangled.

>> going back to the term match, that there was another contributor on the sample referenced ms. starbuck 's neck, male contribu male contributor, that has not been identified?

>> narrator: whose dna was that? no one knows. but d nrthat clay's dna is there is no coincidence. he had been in and out of that house. and his children.

>> do you ever share clothes with austin now?

>> yes, if all my shirts are dirty or something, i'll borrow one of his shirts. i use also lake's old sweatshirts.

>> narrator: in the matter of the alibi, neighbors in the area where clay starbuck claimed his car broke down, testified they did see a car matching that description parked by the side of the road .

>> i go out early in the morning and smoke a cigarette outside. so i seen it parked up the street.

>> narrator: while austin told the court that the jury should not be suspicious about clay's phone being off that day.

>> why would he have it off?

>> because the phone won't interrupt him while he was sleeping. he had just had back surgery and he was asleep.

>> the reason clay was in deer park and not working on the pipeline at the time of chanin's murder. clay was simply too weak, said the kids, didn't have the physical strength to kill their mother.

>> my mom's 5'10", 5'11", 110 pounds. that's not a small lady . she's not big, but she's not small.

>> narrator: debilitating surgery? absolutely, said his doctor.

>> he would probably be somewhat limited four months after surgery, yes.

>> narrator: austin also addressed that so-called trophy, the prosecution brought up, the so-called death certificate hanging on clay's wall. it was actually his said austin . being executor of chanin's estate, he needed a copy of the death certificate and he needed a place where it wouldn't be lost.

>> and it was a closet we used for a gun safe that was behind a locked door handle.

>> narrator: but the star witness, clay starbuck himself.

>> mr. starbuck , you were married to ms. chanin starbuck at one time?

>> yes.

>> narrator: speaking in calm, deliberate tones, clay testified that his back surgery forced him out of work, which is why he became more than $9,000 behind in child support and alimony.

>> i couldn't do anything about it until i went back to work. that was my goal.

>> narrator: money was no motive said the defense, and as for jealousy? he said that his feelings for chanin had been misconstrued.

>> how did you feel guilt that.

>> concerned and to see if we could help her.

>> the officers testified that you had told them about the same sort of activity after the death of ms. starbuck ?

>> yes, and they were interested in anything that could help them with the investigation as well.

>> okay.

>> so that's why.

>> narrator: on the stand, clay starbuck patiently followed his lawyer's lead. no gaffs, no slipups.

>> mr. starbuck , did you kill chanin starbuck .

>> no, i did not.

>> no further questions.

>> narrator: and when it was over, clay and his defense team felt so confident. they encouraged him to talk with us about the case. and some things that did not come out in court.