After 28 years of waiting and a year of hearings, Stavik murder may be nearing trial

Judge rules on DNA evidence in hearing for man accused in 1989 murder of Mandy Stavik

An attorney for Timothy Forrest Bass, the Everson man accused in the 1989 murder of 18-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Stavik of Acme, tried to suppress key DNA evidence at a Whatcom County court hearing.
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An attorney for Timothy Forrest Bass, the Everson man accused in the 1989 murder of 18-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Stavik of Acme, tried to suppress key DNA evidence at a Whatcom County court hearing.

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Read about the arrest in the Mandy Stavik murder, plus other coverage of her 1989 disappearance.

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Just about once a year since 2004, Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo has met with Mary Stavik, the mother of Amanda “Mandy” Stavik.

Mandy went missing on Nov. 24, 1989, while jogging near her home in Clipper, near Acme. The 18-year-old was home for Thanksgiving break from Central Washington University and was last seen around 2:30 p.m. that day with her German shepherd dog, Kyra, who returned without her. Three days later, Mandy’s body was found in the south fork of the Nooksack River, about 3½ miles from the family’s home.

She had been abducted, raped and murdered.

Each year as Elfo met with Mary at the same family home in the small community clustered along Highway 9, he would outline what the sheriff’s office had been working on in the case.

“We would provide her updates just to let her know that we hadn’t forgotten about her or her daughter,” Elfo said in an interview this week with The Bellingham Herald.

One year ago this week, on Dec. 12, 2017 — Mary’s birthday — Elfo drove up to the family home once more, this time bringing news that they had made an arrest in the cold case — 28 years after Mandy’s death.

“I think the highlight of my career, and it’s been a long one ... is being able to tell Mrs. Stavik that the case had finally been solved,” Elfo said. “People have traveled the world trying to solve the case. There’s been lots of effort from a lot of different detectives, generations of detectives have come and retired. This has been something our deputies have worked long and hard on. We’re really proud of people that put work into the case and we will hopefully have justice for Mandy and her family.”

Timothy Forrest Bass, 51, of Everson was arrested and charged with first-degree murder related to Mandy’s death.

Suspects can be charged with first-degree murder in Washington state if they either attempted to commit or did commit the crime of rape or kidnapping and then fled, which resulted in the victim’s death. There is no statute of limitations for murder.

As reported earlier in The Bellingham Herald, Bass was also charged with first-degree rape in late January, but due to statute of limitations concerns, the charge was dismissed in mid-May.

Trial set for April

Bass’ trial is tentatively set for April 8, and he remains in the Whatcom County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

If convicted, he could face 20 years to life in prison.

Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney David McEachran said he will likely be called back as a special prosecutor for trial, since he will be retiring at the end of the year.

“I’ve worked on the case since 1989 and would love to see it to the end,” McEachran said Tuesday in an interview with The Herald.

Tim Bass 1.jpg
Timothy Bass sits with his attorneys during the first day of an evidence suppression hearing this week at the Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham. Bass is accused in the 1989 murder of 18-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Stavik of Acme. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

After Mandy’s death, a DNA profile was created from evidence taken from her body during an autopsy. The sheriff’s office did a voluntary DNA campaign, collecting evidence from at least 50 people in the Acme area where Mandy lived. More than 30 samples were sent to the Washington State Crime Lab for analysis, but none of them matched the suspect profile, according to Whatcom County Superior Court records.

During the investigation, Bass was contacted twice at his home by law enforcement, but after speaking with family members, declined to give a sample. Detectives learned Bass worked as a delivery driver for Franz Bakery and in 2013 requested his delivery route and permission to collect a DNA sample from his work vehicle.

A coworker at Franz put detectives in touch with corporate officials, but the company ultimately decided not to turn the information over without a search warrant, as previously reported in The Herald.

With the arrest in the 28-year-old murder of Mandy Stavik case, we looked in the files for images from the 1989 case. Stavik was 18 when she disappeared Nov. 24, 1989, after going jogging with the family dog near her mother’s home near Acme.

In the spring of 2017, a detective came back to Franz, where the coworker recognized him. The coworker eventually learned the detective was investigating Mandy’s murder, and turned over Bass’ delivery route and the general times he would be in those areas.

“I just gave it to (the officer). After I asked if it was that case and who it was, I felt a basic human moral obligation to help,” the woman said during a hearing in late August.

The coworker said she watched Bass for a period of time to see if he threw anything away and was able to collect a plastic cup and Coke can he drank out of, which she turned over to detectives. The woman said she “had a daughter and would hope that someone would do the same if it were her daughter,” court records state.

DNA profile

Both items were sent to the state crime lab. Bass’ DNA matched that found in Mandy’s body, according to court records. The chance investigators would select a random, unrelated citizen in the U.S. with a matching DNA profile is 1 in 11 quadrillion, records show.

The DNA profile match led to Bass’ arrest one year ago.

When Bass was interviewed by investigators in December 2017, he initially denied any contact or sexual relations with Mandy. After he was told about the matching DNA profile, Bass indicated he had a consensual intimate relationship with Mandy prior to her disappearance, according to court records.

With the exception of identical twins, each person has a unique DNA profile. This makes DNA matching a powerful tool for finding and convicting the perpetrator of a crime.

Stephen Jackson, one of Bass’ public defenders, filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence in the case, meaning it couldn’t be used during a trial. Jackson argued Bass’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated and that the coworker was acting as an agent of the state when she collected the cup and can.

A person acts as an agent of the state if the person performing the search intended to assist law enforcement efforts rather than further their own ends, and if the government knew of and accepted the conduct, according to court records.

Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis ruled at a suppression hearing in late August that while Bass had a reasonable expectation of privacy at work, the woman was not acting as an agent of the state and his rights were not violated, as previously reported in The Herald. Montoya-Lewis said there was little evidence presented during the testimony at the suppression hearing that would suggest detectives had directly or indirectly told the coworker to collect an item from Bass that contained his DNA.

Montoya-Lewis said because the woman came up with the idea on her own and said she felt an obligation to help, she was not acting as an agent of the state and the DNA evidence could be used during trial.

Jackson appealed Montoya-Lewis’ decision to the Court of Appeals. On Oct. 25, Court of Appeals Commissioner Mary Neel denied the review of Montoya-Lewis’ decision to not suppress the DNA evidence in the case, saying that “Mr. Bass has not demonstrated that the court’s conclusion is obvious error,” according to court records reviewed by The Herald.

“Discretionary review is an extraordinary step for an appellate court to take because the case isn’t closed, the case hasn’t been adjudicated to guilt or innocence. So you’re asking for relief based on some really narrow criteria, which is that the Superior Court committed obvious error or probable error,” Jackson said in an interview Thursday with The Herald.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo discusses the arrest of Timothy Forrest Bass, 50, of Everson for the 1989 murder of 18-year-old Mandy Stavik of Acme at a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017.

On Oct. 30, Jackson filed another motion that appeals the commissioner’s decision to a panel of Appeals Court judges. Judges are elected officials, while commissioners are appointed by the court system and aren’t allowed to hear jury trials unless each party in the trial agrees.

“We were denied the ability to argue the case in front of the appellate court and we’re basically asking the court to take a look at what we’ve got,” Jackson said.

Friday evening, the panel of Appeals Court judges denied that motion, Jackson messaged The Bellingham Herald.

“I’m disappointed at the appellate court’s decision,” Jackson said Friday. “Now the focus is only on preparing for trial and showing that Mr. Bass had nothing to do with this case.”

Make a difference

On Wednesday, the one year anniversary of Bass’ arrest, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office held an awards ceremony. Both the crime analysis unit and the detective division received unit citations, or awards honoring their work during Mandy’s case, as well as during several other major cases.

Mandy’s case was “part of the overall work that they do where they make a difference,” Undersheriff Jeff Parks said in an interview with The Herald Friday.

Sheriff Elfo said he hasn’t seen Mary since the day he told her they made an arrest in her daughter’s case. He said that’s partly due to her moving out of the county, but said he expected to see her again in the future. Elfo said he believed that Mary had begun to “lose faith and confidence” that his office would solve Mandy’s murder, but when he told her of Bass’ arrest, he thought she looked relieved and hopeful.

“Sometimes we talk to victims like that and they’re despairing after that long of a period. We try to assure them and I think the previous two sheriffs had done the same over that 30-year course. We were committed to doing everything perceivable until this case was solved,” Elfo said. “As I said, we sent deputies all over the world, even as far as Cambodia. This case has remained a top priority for the sheriff’s office.”

ABC’s investigative series “20/20” will premiere “30 Years Searching,” a two-hour special on this case at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

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Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.