BELLINGHAM - The trial of a Bellingham man accused of murdering his estranged wife with a single shotgun blast to the chest began Wednesday, May 23.
Prosecutors say Keayn Dunya killed his wife, Kriston Peterman-Dunya, with a 12-gauge shotgun early July 3, 2011, in her apartment at 601 E. Holly St.
An accomplice in the killing, Keayn's then-girlfriend Kara Buchanan, will testify for the prosecution in the trial, said Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran.
Buchanan pleaded guilty last week to rendering criminal assistance in the first degree, with a recommended sentence of one year in jail. In exchange, a first-degree murder charge against her was dropped.
For years the Dunyas had been going through an "acrimonious" divorce and custody dispute over their 7-year-old son, Kai, prosecutors wrote in an evidence memo, adding that marital discord and child support issues are "interwoven into the fabric of this entire case."
On the opening day of Keayn's trial, he scribbled notes during witness testimony, keeping his head down and his brow furrowed when McEachran projected grisly photos of the murder scene onto a wall behind him. The images showed Kriston on her side, a large pool of blood seeping into the mottled carpet.
Robinson Whitney, one of Kriston's co-workers at Barnes & Noble, testified Wednesday that he was worried when she didn't show up for work on the Fourth of July. Kriston, 32, had been a dependable employee for more than a decade, and it wasn't like her to miss work.
That night, when he was on his way to watch fireworks with his family, Whitney drove by Kriston's apartment and saw her lights were on and her car was parked outside.
Maybe she had a mix-up in her schedule, he thought.
But when she didn't show up to work the second morning in a row, Whitney went to her apartment and peeked through a small crack in the blinds. He saw her body and the blood. He cracked open the unlocked door, couldn't get her to respond to him, then ran across the street to the Whatcom Educational Credit Union to call 911.
Sgt. Les Gitts, of the Bellingham Police Department, described the crime scene to the jury. Beside Kriston's body, police found her eyeglasses, pieces of shotgun wadding and the torn fingertips of a latex glove. Twenty-eight pills of Vicodin were strewn around the first-floor apartment.
Those pieces of evidence, while never fully explained, matched with items found at Buchanan's home on Whidbey Island, where Keayn had slept the night before, according to prosecutors.
An empty Vicodin pill bottle and an open container of the same kind of Latex gloves were found when police carried out a search warrant at Buchanan's home, Gitts said.
Residue of more evidence, believed to be a bloody T-shirt, was found wrapped in plastic and thrown into a trash can, but the evidence had been burned by Keayn, McEachran said.
While Gitts was en route to the Buchanan home to carry out that warrant, he was alerted of a voice mail Buchanan had left on another detective's phone: She confessed to the crime, giving details only investigators and the shooter would know, Gitts said.
"Hopefully by the time you (get) this, I'll be dead," Buchanan said in the message.
By taking the blame, she believed she was protecting Kai, McEachran said. Kai had already lost his mother, so if he lost his father "it would be horrendous," the prosecutor added, quoting Buchanan.
On the night of Buchanan's confession, a deputy found her Dodge Durango at Double Bluff, a beach near her home, Gitts said.
She had kicked off a pair of chartreuse flip-flops beside the truck, and deputies spotted her sitting barefoot on a bloodstained driftwood log. Her arms were slashed from the wrists to the elbows by a box cutter, in an apparent suicide attempt. With help from a doctor who happened to be in the area, officers put pressure on the gashes to slow the bleeding, then handcuffed and arrested her.
Buchanan was treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. While she was there, McEachran said, she changed her story and said Keayn had shot Kriston.
McEachran showed the jury surveillance footage from an apartment complex near Kriston's on Holly Street. In it, a Toyota Avalon, another vehicle owned by Buchanan, is seen driving up about 4:50 a.m. July 3.
A man with dark skin and wearing a red jacket got out. He walked down Holly Street, shielding an object from view - a shotgun, prosecutors allege - in his right hand. He turned the corner toward Kriston's apartment, then returned a few minutes later with the object in his other hand.
Thomas Fryer, the defense attorney for Keayn, argued the facial features of the person in the video cannot be distinguished. A red jacket with two white stripes down the arm, however, can be seen, he said.
When detectives later found that type of jacket in Buchanan's Durango, a crime lab could not confirm Keayn's DNA was on it. Instead the lab discovered DNA belonging to Buchanan and another unidentified person, Fryer said.
But prosecutors still believe Keayn was wearing that jacket while killing Kriston.
A different shotgun was found in Buchanan's bathroom, but the murder weapon was never recovered.
Dr. Daniel Selove, of the Whatcom County Medical Examiner's Office, said Kriston was shot from between a couple inches and 3 feet away. No drugs or alcohol were in Kriston's system at the time.
Keayn wiped his eyes several times while McEachran showed a photo of Kriston on the autopsy table, her face blackened and burned from the heat of the gunpowder.
A child custody hearing had been set for July 28, 2011 - three weeks after Kriston was found dead. Kriston had planned to go home to Missouri to live with Kai and her own parents after the custody battle was over, said Amber Wilson, a friend and co-worker.
Kriston's parents, Gene and Wilda Peterman, are taking care of Kai, according to The Southeast Missourian newspaper.
Keayn's trial is set to continue after Memorial Day weekend.
Reach CALEB HUTTON at email@example.com or call 715-2276.