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."
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.
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(h/t Liberally Lean)
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.