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State v. Shackelford

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

October 30, 2013

STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Dale Carter SHACKELFORD, Defendant-Appellant.

Rehearing Denied Oct. 31, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Sara B. Thomas, Idaho State Appellate Public Defender, for appellant. Shannon N. Romero argued.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. L. LaMont Anderson argued.



J. JONES, Justice.

Dale Carter Shackelford appeals two consecutive fixed life sentences he received on resentencing for two first-degree murder convictions. Shackelford was initially sentenced to death for both murders but the death sentences were subsequently set aside. Shackelford contends that the district court committed error in resentencing him to the consecutive fixed life sentences.



On February 11, 2000, Shackelford was charged with " two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit arson, and preparing false evidence." State v. Shackelford, 150 Idaho 355, 362, 247 P.3d 582, 589 (2010). " The State alleged that Shackelford conspired with Martha Millar, Bernadette Lasater, Mary Abitz, Sonja Abitz, and, John Abitz" in the commission of his crimes. Id. In December of 2000, a jury found Shackelford guilty of: (1) the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, Donna Fontaine; (2) the first-degree murder of Donna's boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk; (3) conspiracy to commit first-degree murder; (4) first-degree arson; (5) conspiracy to commit arson; and (6) preparing false evidence. Id. " After weighing the mitigating factors against the individual statutory aggravating factors, the court concluded that the mitigating factors were not sufficiently compelling to render the death penalty unjust, and sentenced Shackelford to death for both first-degree murders." Id. " Shackelford was also given prison sentences for the other felony offenses." Id. at 362-63, 247 P.3d at 589-90. Shackelford's trial and sentencing were conducted by district judge John Stegner of the second judicial district.

On April 8, 2005, in response to Shackelford's request for post-conviction relief, the

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district court set aside Shackelford's death sentences based upon its interpretation of Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002). Id. at 363, 247 P.3d at 590. Both parties appealed to this Court. We affirmed Shackelford's first-degree murder convictions, as well as the district court's decision to vacate Shackelford's death sentences and remanded the case for resentencing on the murder convictions. Id. at 388, 247 P.3d at 615. Shackelford's resentencing was also set before Judge Stegner. On remand, the State filed a notice that it would not seek the death penalty for the murders of Fontaine and Palahniuk.

On July 12, 2011, Judge Stegner ordered the Department of Correction of the State of Idaho to prepare an updated presentence investigation report (PSI) for Shackelford's resentencing. Shackelford filed an objection to the updated PSI, alleging twelve specific infirmities.

On August 3, 2011, Shackelford moved to disqualify Judge Stegner for cause pursuant to I.C.R. 25(b). Shackelford filed a brief in support of his motion to disqualify Judge Stegner, arguing that his due process right to an impartial judge would be violated if Judge Stegner was not disqualified. A hearing was set for August 26, 2011, to address Shackelford's motion to disqualify Judge Stegner for cause. At the hearing, Judge Stegner denied Shackelford's motion and set his sentencing for September 28, 2011.

At the conclusion of Shackelford's resentencing hearing, Judge Stegner sentenced Shackelford to two fixed life sentences, to be served consecutively, for the murders of Fontaine and Palahniuk. On October 6, 2011, the district court issued its " Judgment of Conviction on Resentencing— Counts I and II," and formally sentenced Shackelford to two fixed life sentences to run consecutively with each other, and with the sentences previously imposed in Counts III (first degree arson— 25 years fixed), IV (conspiracy to commit first-degree murder— fixed life), V (conspiracy to commit first degree arson— 25 years fixed), and VI (preparing false evidence— 5 years fixed). Shackelford appealed to this Court.



I. Did the district judge abuse his discretion by denying Shackelford's motion to disqualify him for cause under I.C.R. 25(b)?
II. Was Shackelford's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation violated during his resentencing?
III. Did the district court abuse its discretion by considering the written statement of Suzanne Birrell, attached to Shackelford's updated PSI?



A. Standard of Review.

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