SPOKANE, Wash. - At one point in time Gary Stoddard admitted kidnapping and killing his nephew's ex-girlfriend so his nephew wouldn't take the blame for Heather Cassel's murder. Now, as his first degree murder trial gets underway, Stoddard has changed his story.
Now, instead of taking the fall for his nephew, Stoddard wants the jury to view him as a protective uncle who decided to lie to investigators and take a murder rap for his nephew. His problem now is trying to get the jury not only to disregard his previous admissions of guilt but also disregard all of the physical evidence that ties him to Cassel's killing.
On March 11, 2013, in an apartment complex near Spokane Falls Community College, Cassel had been kidnapped, handcuffed and was trying to make her escape when residents heard the shots that ended her life.
"They woke up to a gunshot, they then heard a blood curdling scream and then another gunshot," Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said.
The killer sped away in the victim's Honda; 24 hours later police arrested Cassel's estranged boyfriend Jonathan Ritchey and his uncle, Gary Stoddard, who admitted shooting Cassel.
"He was very matter of fact when he told officers this he showed no emotion when he said she shot her," Steinmetz said.
Stoddard led detectives to the murder weapon, a 9 mm pistol that tests later showed to be the weapon used in the killing. The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab later found Stoddard's DNA on that pistol, the handcuffs on Cassel and a black hat found at the crime scene.
Now, despite admissions of guilt and physical evidence, Stoddard is changing his story. What would prompt him to confess to the crime, only to later backtrack on that confession?
He will tell you in the spring of 2013 he was fairly convinced he had a terminal disease," public defender Kevin Griffin said.
At the time of Cassel's murder, Stoddard said he thought he was dying of pancreatic cancer and so when he learned his nephew killed his ex-girlfriend in a fit of jealous rage, Stoddard decided to take the blame.
"He's going to explain to you what was happening, what he was feeling, what he was thinking and why he made the decision to take the rap for a murder he didn't commit," Griffin said.
Of course in order to present that alibi, Stoddard is going to have to take the stand in his own defense, which will open him up to cross-examination by prosecutors.
As for the nephew, Ritchey recently pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance, but police don't think he fired the fatal shots in this case.
While the information about past misdeeds will be inadmissible at his trial, shortly after Cassel's murder, Stoddard's ex-girlfriend came forward and said he was extremely abusive and liked to used handcuffs to control her movements.