Jurors in the Charles Stobaugh murder trial Wednesday heard him explain to a Sanger police officer his several theories on why his wife could not be found. The officer, the first to talk to Stobaugh after his daughter reported Kathy Stobaugh missing five days after her disappearance, videotaped the interview with his squad car's audio-visual systems. ALSO ONLINE
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Officer Josh Vest testified that he interviewed 16-year-old Charee Stobaugh on Jan. 3, 2005. She told him her mother went to her father's house to talk about property division the evening of Dec. 29 and she did not come home that night. She had not heard from her since, the daughter told the officer, he said.
Vest testified that he drove to the Stobaugh farm off Metz Road west of Sanger and talked to the defendant standing in front of his squad car, where the interview was caught on his video system. After getting all the information he believed was relevant, he wanted to leave to check out some of the leads in the case. He tried six times to leave, but each time the defendant started talking again, telling him several different stories and rambling about a number of diverse matters, he said.
"He seemed very calm and not excited about her not being anywhere I could locate her," Vest said. "I tried to leave, but he was still trying to explain with totally different explanations every time."
Then prosecutor Cary Piel played the 47-minute tape for the jury.
"It's all a false alarm," Stobaugh said at one point. "If this was something kind of new, I would've jumped right on it."
Stobaugh said at one point that he was giving her a little time to come home. At another point, he suggested that Kathy Stobaugh called someone to come and get her, leaving her car in his driveway.
He questioned her emotional state.
"I knew of a woman who went back to school [like Kathy Stobaugh did] and she ended up in a hospital with a nervous breakdown," he said on the video.
The Sanger officer said he has investigated numerous reports of missing people in his career and he never saw anyone react like Stobaugh did. He was concerned and suspicious. Since the victim was last seen in an unincorporated part of the county instead of his jurisdiction, he called Denton County Sheriff's Investigator Larry Kish and Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree for help. He turned the case over to them that night, he said.
First, though, he helped the other officers gather information. Murphree obtained the victim's password to her cellphone voicemail and accessed her messages from the previous five days. He called out names and some messages to the Sanger officer, who wrote them down. There were numerous messages from friends and family of an increasingly concerned nature as the days wore on. There were no messages from Charles Stobaugh, who had said he tried to call her several times because her car was in his driveway.
The Stobaugh divorce that was never completed dominated testimony Wednesday morning. She filed for divorce and moved to Sanger with her children in May 2004.
Her attorney, Tiffany Haertling, testified about her client's determination to divorce her husband of 20 years, her desire to fairly divide community property and her concern that the family farm be preserved for their son.
Haertling last heard from Kathy Stobaugh the day she disappeared, she said. Her client e-mailed what she believed to be a fair division of property. They were to meet at the courthouse the next day to finalize the divorce.
Haertling said that Charles Stobaugh didn't want a divorce and had refused to cooperate in any way, not even filing a response to the original suit. That gave his estranged wife the right to a divorce by default, with her own wishes as to property settlement assured.
She wanted half their money, 55 of the 104 acres of land at the farm, which she would then lease back to him so he could farm it, and such items as her grandmother's rocking chair, the lawyer said. She did not want any other furniture from the house or more than her share of the cash.
"She was trying to preserve the land for her son because he loved it," Haertling said.
But Kathy Stobaugh did not show up for court Dec. 30, 2004, and her attorney has never heard from her again. But she has done what she could to protect her client in her absence, she said.
She kept the divorce active for five years without her client. There was money left in Kathy Stobaugh's payment account to pay for it, she said. She kept injunctions in place to prevent Charles Stobaugh from accessing the funds or selling the property; they had been put in place as standard procedure to keep the parties from unfairly taking community property.
She said she felt that it was her duty as Kathy Stobaugh's attorney to protect her assets for her children. So she pursued the divorce.
"It kept being put on a dismissal docket every six months. That means that a trial date should be set or the suit dismissed," she testified. "But I kept asking the judge not to dismiss it. I wanted to be sure he [Charles Stobaugh] didn't use community funds for legal representation in a criminal case. I didn't want him to use up all the money paying defense lawyers. I was trying to save it for the children."
Eventually, a judge told her to either set a trial date or he would dismiss the case, she said. She set a trial date and continued to postpone that date.
Defense attorney Derrell Comer questioned her about her motives in blocking his client's access to his funds.
"I was doing whatever I could to agitate your client," Haertling said. "I admit to that."
Murphree, the Ranger, began testifying late Wednesday afternoon in what is expected to be a long stint on the witness stand.
The trial will resume at 10 a.m. today in 362nd District Court.
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .