Skip to content

Judge sets aside death sentence for Shackelford

MOSCOW, Idaho – The death sentences ordered in 2001 for former Missouri trucker Dale C. Shackelford have been set aside by the same judge who imposed them after his convictions for two murders.

District Court Judge John Stegner, who imposed the death penalty for the murders of Donna Fontaine and Fred Palahnuik, cited an Idaho law enacted in 1993 that requires the death penalty be imposed by a jury. A Latah County jury had found Shackelford guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson, and preparing false evidence.

While the jury found Shackelford guilty of the charges, at the time Idaho law provided for the judge presiding over the trial to impose the sentences on all charges. It was after a series of hearings that Judge Stegner ordered the death sentences.

Judge Stegner made his ruling setting aside the death sentences earlier this month at the conclusion of a hearing on a motion for post-conviction relief filed by Shackelford’s attorneys. Other points raised in that motion were denied by the judge, thus upholding the convictions.

The 42-year-old Shackelford was formerly in the trucking business at Ironton, Mo., where he moved after his release from Farmington Correctional Center. Fontaine had married Shackelford after meeting him at the medium security prison where she taught classes in the 1990s. She is a former resident of the Caledonia area and had a law practice based in Ironton.

After a stormy divorce, Fontaine had gone to property she owned near Kendrick, Idaho, in what authorities said was an effort to get away from Shackelford. It was after the couple had separated that Shackelford was charged in Iron County with the forcible rape and kidnapping of Fontaine.

During the trial there was evidence presented of efforts to kill Fontaine in Missouri before her murder near Kendrick on May 29, 1999. The prosecution suggested at the trial that one motive Shackelford had for the murder of Fontaine was to silence her as a witness in the Missouri case.

Fontaine was shot with both a shotgun and a .32-caliber pistol, while Palahnuik was shot only with the pistol. Their badly burned bodies were found in the ruins of a burning house on Fontaine’s property by responding firefighters.

Shackelford has continuously denied committing the murders and has even claimed that Fontaine is still alive. He has said his former wife has been seen alive on at least two occasions since the bodies were discovered.

Palahnuik was a retired Washington resident who Fontaine had met through a personal advertisement just months before the murders. He had become Fontaine’s boyfriend, according to authorities, and had accompanied her from Missouri to Kendrick just prior to the murders. A daughter of Fontaine testified at the trial that her mother told her in a telephone conversation that she and Palahnuik were going to travel on to Washington to further get away from Shackelford’s stalking.

While the recent ruling by Judge Stegner leaves Shackelford without a sentence for the two murders, prosecutors indicate there are several potential ways to resolve the situation. They have not ruled out appealing the judge’s latest order to the Idaho appellate courts.

If the prosecutors continue to seek the death penalty for Shackelford, they could also request the same jury that found him guilty of the charges be brought back for a penalty phase of the trial. It was suggested that to bring in a new jury might not be practical because the new panel would not be fully aware of all the circumstances surrounding the case that came out in the original trial.

It was further pointed out by prosecutors that, by overturning Judge Stegner’s most recent ruling, the higher courts could reinstate the original death sentences he had imposed for Shackelford.

Still another possibility is that Shackelford could be given two consecutive life sentences without the possibility for parole on the murder charges.

Judge Stegner gave no indication when Shackelford’s case might come back before him in regard to the sentencing. Sources indicated that because of the potential for case going through the appeals process, it might be a long process.

Leave a Comment