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Spokane Woman's Murder Conviction Upheld

A Spokane woman, serving 25 years for murdering her estranged husband, has lost her bid to have her conviction overturned for the second time. Shelly Stark, now 52 years old, contended she was unfairly convicted of first degree murder when the Spokane trial judge shut the public out of closing arguments after lurid testimony about spousal abuse, forced prostitution, and a plot to kill her husband, Dale Stark.

But two out of three appeals court judges rejected her argument that the courtroom had been closed to the public.

The presiding judge asked spectators to avoid coming and going during closing arguments, thus disrupting the proceedings. Such a request is not the same as an order from the bench to prohibit anyone from entering or leaving, according to the majority appeals judges.

Judge George Fearing dissented, arguing that Stark should get a new trial - it would be her third - because court spectators could not distinguish between a request and an order.

Although Stark's challenge to her conviction was rebuffed, she did win one point. She will not have to undergo a mental evaluation when she's paroled or released from prison.

Stark was convicted in 2009 of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, but that was thrown out by an appeals court because of an improper jury instruction.