Local News

Children of murder victim believe suspect -- their dad -- is innocent

DEER PARK, Wash. - Jury selection begins next week for Spokane's most diabolical murder trial in more than a decade as Clay Starbuck stands accused of killing his ex-wife and trying to pin the crime on one of her new boyfriends.

Deputies have said as soon as Chanin Starbuck's body was discovered, Clay Starbuck told them his ex-wife was very promiscuous and offered perhaps one of Chanin's online lovers must have killed her. However, the couple's children say there's a viable explanation for their father's actions and they believe detectives have arrested the wrong man.

During his pre-trial motions, the five Starbuck children waited in the hallway outside the courtroom, hoping for a glimpse of their father being led to and from court. It's one of the few chances they have to see him since his arrest.

"They will not let us in the courtroom, we are labeled as witnesses with no contact with our dad which makes it very hard to defend him," Blake Starbuck said.

Blake Starbuck, 19, had already moved out of his mother's home when her body was found inside her locked Deer Park residence back in December of 2011.

Starbuck family

"When the patrol officers got here they found a 43-year-old female that's deceased inside the house and there are some circumstances, including her age that make us wonder if this is a natural death or not," Lieutenant Steve Barbieri with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office said.

It didn't take very long though, for the older Starbuck children to rule out a "natural death" or suicide. They'd known for a long time their mother was seeing a lot of men. Even neighbors had noticed the large number of Chanin's acquaintances.

"She would leave early in the morning, two in the morning, come back five, six and my neighbor was worried about the safety of my three younger siblings," Blake said.

After taking a look at Chanin's computer, homicide detectives realized Chanin was involved in online dating and those prospective boyfriends quickly became persons of interest.

"And they're calling us to tell us what they know about her last 30 days or to give us insight into what they know about her previous relationships with other people," Lt. Barbieri said.

One of the first suitors to step forward was Lewis and Clark High teacher John Kenlein, who went to Chanin's home several times the same day she was killed

"Knocked on the door, she didn't come to the door, and he was surprised because she had always been available when they had meetings before and never stood him up and so he actually even walked around the house to find out if something was wrong," Kenlein's attorney Rob Cossey said.

When Kenlein learned from investigators what had happened to Chanin after she was already dead, he was even more determined to help sheriff's deputies identify her killer.

"Answering every single question, DNA, alibi, giving him the texts and e-mails that he had any thing from his computers that he had, he provided to law enforcement immediately," Cossey said.

Detectives say a sample of Kenlein's DNA would later eliminate him as a suspect, but the Starbuck children think investigators were working from an incomplete list of possible killers.

"There are a lot of suspects that I think the prosecution has not looked at," Blake said.

"It's just her history, she was addicted to seeing other men," Austin Starbuck added.

At 22, Austin Starbuck is the oldest of the Starbuck children and now the legal guardian of the younger children.

"I believe they haven't investigated people as thoroughly as we all hoped they would," Austin added.

Detectives did investigate other people but found Clay Starbuck's actions suspicious from day one, including telling deputies at the crime scene about his ex-wife's online encounters.

"Yeah he was telling them the truth and providing all the information that he thought would be helpful in the investigation, and they saw that as him trying to push them in a different direction, but it was just him telling the truth," Blake said.

During his murder trial, detectives may also tell the jury that Clay owed his ex-wife $9,000 in back child support when Chanin was murdered.

"We're aware of how much was supposed to be paid out. So yes we look at that as a possible motive," Sergeant Bill Beeman with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office said.

"It just does not make sense that he would leave us all parent-less over $9,000 when he made plenty of money," Blake said.

While the Starbuck children believe their dad's innocence, Chanin's mother and brother also suspected Clay from the very beginning.

"I knew from that moment, that Clay had murdered her," Chanin's mother Melanie Boucier said.

"She was not someone who would sit back and let someone run her life for her. She was a fighter and she fought until her last breath," Chanin's brother Steve Conway said.

And that last breath is what detectives think dispatchers heard when Chanin called 9-1-1 as she was being strangled. Confused and concerned, dispatchers immediately called her  back, only to have the phone ring and drop to her voicemail.

Detectives think Chanin didn't answer because she was already losing the struggle with her ex-husband.

"She would have not gone down without a fight, my dad did not have any marks on him," Blake said.

But detectives say they did find male Starbuck DNA on Chanin's throat, cheek and cell phone. Her sons say that's not surprising given that Chanin and Clay shared this same home until they separated for the divorce.

"My dad had driven her vehicle, there's DNA all over that house and it would be just as easy for her to touch a sweatshirt and do her makeup in the morning and she would have that trace DNA on her hands and neck but it was not found anywhere else," Blake said.

"You honestly don't believe your dad killed your mother?" Jeff Humphrey asked.

"No, no not for a second," Blake responded.

Whoever killed Chanin Starbuck also sexually violated her remains.

"We want to send a message in the case. We want to charge as much as we can on Mr. Starbuck and try to prove it in court," Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said.

Chanin Starbuck's death has divided a family and left five kids with the prospect of having no parents in the future.

"I'm very worried that he's being tried for something he did not do and there is not sufficient evidence," Blake said.

"I think there is someone out there who is the real killer, who is probably having a beer at night while my brother and my family goes through this for over a year and I'm tired of it," Clay's sister Kathy Nasholm said.

Clay's sister Kathy said he's cooperated with investigators at every turn and didn't even ask for an attorney after his arrest.

"It isn't blind devotion. If i thought my brother did this, not for one second would I support him. He did not do this, he is an innocent man. You mark my words," she said.

Detectives say when they were able to search Clay's home, less than a mile from her home, they found a copy of Chanin's death certificate tacked up inside his bedroom closet like it a trophy.

The kids think it's was up there simply so Clay wouldn't lose it.

Prosecutors say if they win a conviction in this upcoming trial, they'll ask the judge to send Clay Starbuck to prison for the rest of his life.


LOCAL AND REGIONAL NEWS

THIS WEEK'S CIRCULARS