Charles Stobaugh's Wife-Killing Conviction Overturned: "No Body, No Murder Weapon, No Witnesses"

Categories: Crime

charlesstobaugh.jpg
Charles Stobaugh
The circumstantial evidence against Charles Stobaugh is damning.

His estranged wife, Kathy, was last seen on the night of December 29, 2004, setting out for his isolated farmhouse to discuss their divorce, set to be finalized the next day. Add in his domineering personality and his evident heartburn at the prospect of losing half his property, and it's easy to see how a Denton County jury would convict him for murder.

The problem, as the Second District of Texas Court of Appeals in Fort Worth puts it, is that "there is no body, no murder weapon, no witnesses, and no blood or DNA evidence; there are no fibers or hairs or any type of forensic evidence establishing that a murder occurred or linking Charles to a murder; and there is no confession or directly incriminatory statement by Charles."

See also: Judge: In Texas, Search Warrants Can Now Be Based on a "Prediction of a Future Crime"

And, if circumstantial evidence is going to be on the table, there's plenty that plays to Charles' favor.

Here, there is no body; there is no evidence that Charles had a mistress or remarried after Kathy's disappearance; there is no evidence of staging a crime scene; there is no evidence that Charles possessed the type of weapon used in the murder; and although Charles appeared calm .... he did not claim that he had just discovered his wife murdered.

Charles did not threaten witnesses or tell them to keep their mouths shut. Charles cooperated with police, gave consent to search to anyone who asked to search his property, and made oral and written statements to anyone who asked him for an oral or written statement.

Bluntly put, the jury messed up.

The appellate court's opinion overturning Stobaugh's conviction (embedded below) is a long one, but it's a fascinating read, spending a good deal of space chronicling the ordinary messiness of the Stobaughs' relationship (an early separation that they later patched over, kids shuttling back and forth between homes,; Kathy rekindling an old high school romance as the divorce moved forward) before delving into the less ordinary messiness of Kathy's inexplicable disappearance and Charles' murder trial.

The Denton County District Attorney's office tells the Denton Record-Chronicle that "chances are on the high end" that they will file an appeal.

(h/t Liberally Lean)

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

Charles Stobaugh appellate decision

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13 comments
nortexhomes
nortexhomes

Most damning to their case to me, the cops didn't even question the Oklahoma boyfriend!  They were lazer focused on their guy and wouldn't even consider any other possibilities.  This is the most bungled case I have ever seen.  If there isn't another appeal and time runs out on an appeal by the prosecutor, I believe more information will become available that supports his innocence.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

This is one of those cases where the prosecution should have never even taken it to court. They had no evidence of actual wrong doing. All they had was a motive. As others have pointed out, we have no idea if she is even dead. She could have run off and be living somewhere else under an assumed identity, been kidnapped, or any number of other possibilities,
When they took this case to trial, that meant nobody was looking for evidence anymore. It now means that any evidence that could be found now has deteriorated and any further prosecution of the guy will be extremely difficult.

TedUnlis
TedUnlis

Long story short, the prosecution bullshitted a conviction out of the jury.  The guilty verdict was based solely on speculation and a reenactment by Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree even though there was not a shred of evidence to support the speculation or reenactment. The Court of Appeals Opinion is a shameful chapter in the history of the Trial Court Judge, the Denton County DA, and the Texas Rangers.  

doublecheese
doublecheese

" there is no evidence that Charles possessed the type of weapon used in the murder;"


Can someone explain this statement?  If there is no body, no murder weapon, and no evidence, what sense does that make?

roo_ster
roo_ster

"there is no body, no murder weapon, no witnesses, and no blood or DNA evidence; there are no fibers or hairs or any type of forensic evidence establishing that a murder occurred or linking Charles to a murder; and there is no confession or directly incriminatory statement by Charles."

Tell me again how dude even got _charged_?  As for the circumstantial evidence, that would apply to just about any messy divorce.


Yes, even jerks deserve the benefit of the law and our traditional presumptions. 

JFPO
JFPO

"Kathy rekindling an old high school romance as the divorce moved forward) before delving into the less ordinary messiness of Kathy's inexplicable disappearance..."

This probably explains the disappearance.

dingo
dingo

'The circumstantial evidence against Charles Stobaugh is damning.'

Maybe figuratively,  but the appeals court literally ruled that there wasn't even conflicting circumstantial evidence presented. If there was then it would have forced the the court to honor the jury's (trier of fact's) original decision:

'The standard of review is the same for direct and circumstantial evidence cases; circumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing the guilt of an actor...  .....In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to show an appellant s intent, and faced with a record that supports conflicting inferences, we must presume even if it does not affirmatively appear in the record that the trier of fact resolved any such conflict in favor of the prosecution, and must defer to that resolution.'


everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

No body, no cause of death.  No cause of death, no proof that there even was a homicide, much less that a particular person did it.


That's how it has to work.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@doublecheeseHopefully the defense did not make that statement about the ahh err disappearance. 

B_L_Zebubba
B_L_Zebubba

@JFPO

Only if there was additional evidence of the involvement of UFOs.

B_L_Zebubba
B_L_Zebubba

Rationality and evidence dictates that there's an extraordinarily high probability that the ex-Mrs. Stobaugh is dead, she died suddenly and inexplicably and that, given the state of her marriage to Mr. Stobaugh at the time of her disappearance, Mr. Stobaugh had everything to do with that. For the ex-Mrs. Stobaugh to have met some other end would be nothing short of miraculous. Recognizing such strong probabilities is how our system needs to work - to keep the innocent safe from dangerous pigs like Charles Stobaugh.


More troubling to me is the fact that the Appeals Court apparently accepts as '"evidence" of innocence the alleged willingness of a suspect to deliver statements voluntarily to the prosecution. Defendants should never give statements to the prosecution unless instructed to do so by one's attorney - that's how our system has to work.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@everlastingphelpsEven reading through the transcripts, the only way the circumstantial evidence points to any sort of foul play is if you go into it under that assumption.  Not a lawyer, but I'm curious how this even made it to a courtroom.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@B_L_Zebubba High probability isn't the standard in criminal cases.  That standard is known as "clear and convincing evidence."  The standard in criminal cases is "beyond a reasonable doubt."  That means that the evidence shows that there is no other way within the realm of reason that it happened.


If the story is accurate, we don't have that evidence here.  Without a body, it is reasonable that she ran off to Mexico after telling people she was going there.  It's within reason that she ran her car off the road into a lake and was never found.  These potential outcomes are highly unlikely but still fill the burden of Reasonable Doubt.


His willingness to give statements isn't an indication of innocence.  Appeals courts frankly don't care much if the defendant is actually guilty or innocent.  They only care about whether or not the trial was conducted according to the rules and both sides got a fair chance to make their case.  His cooperation is evidence that the state wasn't denied a chance to get evidence in via his statements, not that he was actually innocent.

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