State rests case in Stobaugh trial

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After a long day that sometimes pitted Charles Stobaugh's relatives against him in his murder trial, prosecutors rested the state's case against him shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday. Stobaugh, 54, is accused of killing his estranged wife, Kathy, and hiding her body in 2004. Charles Stobaugh

The beginning of the defense case was in question today because of an expected ice storm, and Judge Bruce McFarling told jurors that he had a prior obligation for Thursday and Friday, so it could be Monday - Valentine's Day, the judge wryly pointed out - before the trial would resume.

On Tuesday, the state finished with seven additional witnesses.

District Attorney Investigator Dugan Broomfield testified to the lengths he went to after Charles Stobaugh's indictment in 2009 to make sure that Kathy Stobaugh had not been seen or heard from in the intervening years. He went to an employer near El Paso who had reported a man working for him picking cotton using her Social Security number. He showed the employer her photo, Broomfield said.

"He looked at me and said, 'I do not hire Americano females,'" the investigator said.

He checked a report from California that a woman with the first and middle name Katherine Lynn had been in a shelter there. He checked school records, driving records and fingerprints to positively determine that she was not Katherine Lynn Stobaugh.

He looked into reports of five unidentified bodies found during the time period and determined that none of them was Kathy Stobaugh, he said.

Defense attorney Derrell Comer pointed out that none of that work was done at the time of her disappearance. Broomfield conceded that it was done after the defendant's indictment.

In the morning, the defense had its first chance to confront both of the men it is offering the jury as possible other suspects. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Keith Jones and funeral director Lynn "Rocky" Underwood were state's witnesses, but they faced strong questioning from the defense.

Gainesville attorneys Comer and Ed Zielinski have alluded to the two throughout the trial as men in Kathy Stobaugh's life whom investigators ignored as possible suspects. Kathy Stobaugh

Both were lifelong friends of Kathy Stobaugh, missing since Dec. 29, 2004, and presumed dead. Comer has questioned investigators about any efforts they made to delve into those relationships or search areas around where the men live for a body.

Jones limped into the courtroom in full dress Army uniform. He said he'd had knee surgery less than a week ago. He testified that he has been in the military for nearly 25 years and was a police officer for three years prior to that. He graduated from high school in Gatesville with Kathy Munday, later Stobaugh, he said, and they kept in contact intermittently after that until she disappeared. He said that he talked to her by telephone in 2004 but did not see her. He knew when she left her husband, he said, and she asked his advice about several things. One of them was her safety.

"She was scared that something might happen. I told her if she went out there [to the family farm where Charles Stobaugh still lives] that she should have someone with her at all times," Jones said.

Jones testified that his wife, Mary, died of brain cancer in March 2010, leaving him with their four teenagers. She struggled with the disease for 11 years, he said. She was aware of his friendship with his high school classmate, he said.

The Jones family drove to Maryland - a 1,533-mile drive - to visit her family for Christmas 2004, he said. His wife wasn't feeling well and his youngest son came down with pneumonia, so they shortened their visit and left the morning of Dec. 27. Prosecutor Cary Piel documented their trip with checks written along the way. Jones said they spent one night in a hotel and arrived home in Gatesville just after midnight on Dec. 30. He did not speak to Kathy Stobaugh during that time, Jones said.

Comer asked Jones whether he ever saw any evidence that Charles Stobaugh physically abused his wife. He said no. Comer asked Jones if he spoke to an investigator on his cellphone so his wife wouldn't hear about his friendship. Jones said he had no problem with his wife overhearing, since she knew they were friends.

"Were you aware of how bad things were for her?" Comer asked.

"Yes," Jones said.

"Were you aware that Kathy Stobaugh was having sexual relations with Rocky Underwood?" Comer asked.

"No," Jones said. "I wasn't."

Underwood testified next. He graduated from high school in Gatesville with the victim, he said, and stayed in contact with her over the years. Occasionally, if he was going to be in the area, he called her to meet him for lunch. Sometimes, Charles Stobaugh also attended those lunches, he said.

After she separated from her husband in April 2004, they spoke more on the telephone and spent two nights together, once in August and once in early December, he said. They had no plans to marry but were just going to "see how things were going," he said. Underwood is single.

Piel led Underwood through his schedule from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1. Three people died between Christmas and Dec. 28, and his supervisor, the only other funeral director with the funeral home, was vacationing in another state. Underwood said he handled everything.

Piel showed dates and times of funerals and viewings that Underwood supervised, appointments with families and faxes he sent from the office with time stamps that indicated he had no time to make the approximately four-hour drive from Haskell to Sanger. Piel also produced checks Underwood wrote to Haskell businesses during that time.

Comer chided him during cross-examination about his inability to remember things the defense wanted to know and his ability to remember details that would help the state. Piel objected to the "sidebar" remarks, and McFarling sustained the objection.

Comer drew from Underwood that no one ever searched his house or car or the funeral home. He chided him for his estimate that it takes five hours to drive between Haskell and Sanger, saying that online maps show about four hours.

"It depends on how fast you drive," Underwood said. "I'm careful."

Keela Stobaugh took the stand after lunch. She is married to Toby Stobaugh, Charles' brother, she said. She appeared uncomfortable with her role as state's witness, but she freely testified to her sister-in-law's easygoing friendliness and ability as a mother.

The Stobaugh family met for dinner on New Year's Day 2005, she testified, and neither Charles nor his 16-year-old daughter, Charee, mentioned to anyone that Kathy Stobaugh had been missing since Dec. 29.

Betty Stobaugh is married to Charles' brother Tim. She is a registered nurse. She appeared more at ease with testifying against her brother-in-law and said she and her husband have had little interaction with the family since 2004.

She described the victim as "sweet, compassionate," with her children "pretty much Velcroed on her knee."

Charles Stobaugh is "very tight," she said. "He watched every penny."

She sat next to Charles Stobaugh at the New Year's dinner, she said. He seemed more jovial than usual and never said a word about his wife being missing.

"I went home and said, 'Well, Charles was in a good mood today,'" Debbie Stobaugh said.

She and her husband helped with two searches for Kathy Stobaugh but Charles did not, she testified.

Comer confronted her with information he wanted to get before the jury in cross-examination.

"Did you know that Kathy took off and left her children alone for a weekend?" he asked.

"I don't believe she left her children," Betty Stobaugh said. "Kathy wouldn't do that."

Tim Stobaugh said he lives eight to 10 miles from his brother. He did not learn that they had separated in April until October, he said. There was tension between the two brothers after that year, he said. During one search for the missing woman, he saw his brother on a tractor loading hay, he said.

Comer asked in cross-examination if the children were living with Charles Stobaugh at the time of the searches.

"Do you think it's reasonable for a father to be with his children while all this is going on?" Comer asked.

"No," Tim Stobaugh said. "I think everyone should have been looking for Kathy."

DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is dfielder@dentonrc.com .

 


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