A Texas appeals court has overturned the conviction of man sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing his wife, though her body was never found.
On Friday, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth reversed the judgment of the 362nd District Court of Denton County that Charles Stobaugh murdered his estranged wife, Kathy Stobaugh, in 2004.
The Court of Appeals determined the evidence the jury used to convict Stobaugh of murder in Feb., 2011, was not sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt.
Charles Stobaugh made that claim, along with five others, to the appeals court. Since the first claim was substantiated, the other five claims were not reviewed by the court. The 2nd Court of Appeals had this to say in their opinion:
His first point challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction; he points out that Kathy has never been located — dead or alive, either during the seven years before his 2011 trial or since — and contends that no physical, forensic, or direct evidence was presented at trial linking him to the alleged offense of murder. That is, 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. Charles argues that the circumstantial evidence presented by the State at trial is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with the requisite mens rea to commit the offense of murder. Charles argues that insufficient evidence exists that he committed any act directed toward Kathy on or about December 29, 2004, much less that, ―with intent to cause serious bodily injury to an individual, namely Kathy Stobaugh, [he] commit[ted] an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of said Kathy Stobaugh, by manner and means unknown,‖ as alleged in the indictment, or that he intentionally or knowingly caused Kathy‘s death by a manner and means unknown as alleged in the indictment. We hold that, viewed in the light most favorable to State, the cumulative force of the circumstantial evidence and any reasonable inferences from that evidence that could be considered incriminating are insufficient to convince any rational fact-finder beyond a reasonable doubt that Charles acted with the requisite mens rea necessary to support his conviction for murder. Accordingly, we sustain Charles‘s first point and render a judgment of acquittal. (The entire opinion can be read here.)
During the trial, prosecutors said that Kathy Stobaugh was moving on with her life and had her two children, a new job, a new boyfriend and money in the bank when she disappeared on Dec. 29, 2004.
After that day, Kathy Stobaugh was never seen again.
Police said they found her car and keys at her husband's home. Despite numerous searches, investigators never recovered a body, weapon or any physical evidence that indicated a murder had taken place. Prosecutors said they had Kathy Stobaugh's mobile phone and credit card records and that there was no activity on either after she disappeared.
Throughout the investigation and his trial, Charles Stobaugh's contention was that his wife ran away.
The Denton County District Attorney's Office has 30 days to appeal the decision.
NBC 5's Randy McIlwain contributed to this report.