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franklin county times

A news analysis …
Jury in Starns trial begins
deliberations

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 20, 2002
By the time you read this, the jury in the murder trial of Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns has probably begun its deliberations.
Defense lawyers rested Friday afternoon. Closing arguments were scheduled for 9 a.m. today.
Jurors have a daunting responsibility.
The bottom line issues in this case are obscured in a haze of stories about bad blood between a mother and a step-mother. Ugly phone calls. Fights about visitation and child support. A physical confrontation in the mall parking lot followed by an arrest and trial in Meridian Municipal Court. Bitter words in the hospital waiting room.
In July 1984, when 4-year-old Angela Schnoor died, Starns was married to Michael Schnoor. He and Debbie Boswell, Angela's mother, had divorced in 1981.
Both Starns and Boswell testified that they did not get along.
In her testimony, Starns acknowledged she was sometimes the one who caused problems, but that most of the time, it was Boswell.
Perhaps Francis Schnoor, Angela's grandmother, said it best: "Angela was the child and she was the one in between the adults or what was supposed to be adults."
This atmosphere, however, described by so many witnesses, seems mostly beside the point. Nobody testified about how much of this Angela noticed or how it affected her.
Boswell said Starns disliked her because she resented losing the money Michael Schnoor paid in child support but even she never suggested Starns' resentment bled over into animosity toward Angela. No witness suggested Starns abused or neglected the little girl.
For all of the time spent describing the relationship between Starns and Boswell, Special Assistant Attorney General Scott Leary and Assistant District Attorney Lisa Howell never demonstrated its connection to Angela's death.
But, then, they didn't really have to.
Leary said in opening arguments that he doesn't know why Starns killed Angela. It doesn't matter, he said. There's only one person who could have done it, who had the opportunity to do it her stepmother.
In the end, it will probably come down to the testimony of the expert medical witnesses.
The prosecution's experts testified it was not possible to determine Angela's manner of death in 1984 because they had not seen a photograph of the couch. Now that they have, they say Angela died of asphyxiation by homicide.
The defense's expert testified it's not possible to determine why Angela died because Dr. Gary Cumberland "botched" the autopsy when he failed to make slides which could have been examined microscopically. Because of this, disorders like Reyes Syndrome, Pompei's Disease, encephalitis and certain congenital defects cannot be ruled out.

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