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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Set fire to the building where the bodies were found - To escape a 30-year-to-life sentence on rape charges his ex-wife had filed against him in Missouri
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: May 29, 1999
Date of birth: February 19, 1962
Victims profile: Donna Fontaine, 44 (his ex-wife) and Fred Palahniuk, 59 (her boyfriend)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Latah County, Idaho, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 25, 2001
Shooting deaths of ex-wife and her boyfriend

Dale Carter Shackelford, 41, of Ironton, Mo. Convicted for the 1999 slayings of Donna Fontaine and Fred Palahniuk.


Jury convicts Shackelford in 2 murders

Latah County prosecutor to pursue death penalty

Saturday, December 23, 2000

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Dale Carter Shackelford didn't flinch Friday morning when he heard he had been found guilty of six charges in the murders of Donna Fontaine and Fred Palahniuk.

But the color drained from the Missouri truck driver's face as the jurors, individually polled on each verdict, said the word "guilty" 72 times.

Two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, preparing false evidence, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit arson add up to a minimum of life in prison.

But Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson said his office will pursue the death penalty.

It took the sequestered jurors nearly two days of deliberation to find that Shackelford, 38, planned and executed the murders of his ex-wife and her boyfriend on May 29, 1999, in a remote corner of Latah County.

They ruled that he fabricated false evidence, set fire to the building where the bodies were found, and that he conspired with his fiancee, Sonja Abitz, and her mother, Mary Abitz, to commit the murders. Both women live near the scene of the crime, but are now in Latah County Jail charged as co-conspirators in the murders and arson.

Forensic experts determined that Fontaine, 45, a Missouri lawyer, and Palahniuk, 59, a retired Newman Lake man, died of bullet and shotgun wounds at the wooded Latah County site where Fontaine and her family were building a house. Firefighters and sheriff's deputies found their charred bodies in the ashes of the garage-dwelling on the property.

Sharing their disappointment at the verdict, Shackelford's attorneys said the trial was difficult.

"Time, distance and volume of information" made it complicated, said D. Ray Barker. The eight-week trial involved two states (Missouri and Idaho), 64 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence.

The prosecution also listed 250 potential witnesses and filed more than 16,000 pages of material, further complicating their jobs as defense attorneys, said Steve Mahaffy.

Shackelford's lawyers had argued that at the time of the murders, their client was miles away in Lewiston checking on his long-haul truck. The attorneys also suggested that the deaths were a murder-suicide performed by the couple or an accidental shooting involving Brian Abitz, Sonja's teenage brother.

The prosecution contended that Shackelford killed Fontaine to escape a 30-year-to-life sentence on rape charges she had filed against him in Missouri.

They argued that Shackelford hid his presence in Idaho from Fontaine, ambushed her and Palahniuk and killed them with her shotgun and her .32-caliber handgun.

Though there was little to tie the defendant directly to the crime scene, the prosecution presented a load of circumstantial evidence, including threats Shackelford made to his ex-wife and the testimony of two different lovers that, at his bidding, they tried to kill Donna Fontaine.

While they were deliberating, the jury didn't know that Shackelford was several hundred feet away in a jail cell awaiting their decision.

His attorney Mahaffy carefully concealed Shackelford's incarceration by bringing him clean dress shirts each day and helping him choose from among a few simple suits.

On the day of the verdict, Shackelford wore a loose gray jacket and black pants.

In court, a deputy in plain clothes always sat behind Shackelford, who was wearing a leg brace that would lock up if he tried to run.

Most of the jurors, alert but weary, watched the judge while their verdict was read, occasionally glancing over at Shackelford. But one woman never looked away from him.

At the end, Second District Court Judge John Stegner told the jury, "You have fulfilled an important obligation and I can't thank you enough."

This is Stegner's first murder trial. He will decide Shackelford's sentence in June.

Lead prosecutor Robin Eckmann said she was pleased with the verdict. "I was very confident in the evidence," she said. Though she has been working on the case since November 1999, she said the verdict didn't bring much relief. The sentencing process promises to be lengthy.

And Eckmann and co-counsel Rich Christensen will start their case against Mary and Sonja Abitz in early January.

Both women are charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit arson in the first degree and preparing false evidence.

The Latah County Sheriff's office is holding them in separate cells at the jail.

Both prosecuting attorneys accepted pats on the back and handshakes from deputies and courthouse workers.

"This is by far the most complex and compelling trial I've ever been involved in," Christensen said. "But there's no real congratulations to be had because two people are dead."


Jurors to visit scene of killings, trip closed to public

November 7, 2000

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — After performing parts of jury selection behind closed doors in October, Judge John Stegner has decided to close another portion of a double murder trial from public view.

On Monday, the jury will visit the scene of the deaths of Donna Fontaine, 44, and her boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk, 59, in the southeast corner of Latah County.

In May 1999, the couple was shot and their bodies burned in a garage on property owned by Fontaine’s brother, Gary Fontaine.

Donna Fontaine’s ex-husband, Dale Carter Shackelford, 38, is on trial in Latah County 2nd District Court for the murders and arson.

The jury is traveling to the site outside of Kendrick to see where the fire occurred and where the bodies and two guns were found. The jurors may also see where sheriff’s deputies found Fontaine’s truck and spent shotgun shells.

Stegner chose to close the visit to the public and the press for security reasons, he said Friday.

The only people present will be the jury, the judge, the prosecution and defense attorneys and Dale Shackelford, Stegner said.

Sheriff’s deputies in plain clothes will be nearby to maintain a security perimeter. The judge is allowing the jury to view evidence privately. Normally they would see evidence in an open courtroom where the public could watch.

Shackelford is charged two counts of first-degree murder and one each of first-degree arson, conspiring to commit murder and arson and preparing false evidence. He faces the death penalty if convicted of the murders.

Donna Fontaine was the only witness against Shackelford on a rape charge she lodged in Missouri for an incident that occurred shortly before the two were divorced in 1998.

Authorities contend that is why Shackelford killed her. The pair met while Shackelford was serving a prison sentence for sodomy and Fontaine was teaching a junior college class for inmates.

He had been running a trucking business in Ironton, Mo., at the time of the murders, and a former employee has already admitted conspiring with him to murder Fontaine.

Also charged in the case are Shackelford’s fiancee, Sonja Abitz, 31, of Kendrick, and her mother, Mary Abitz, 54, of Kendrick. Perjury charges against her father, John Abitz, 56, were dropped.

On Friday in court, Mary Abitz’s brother, Ted Meske, who lives near the site bodies were found, testified that he heard gun shots on the day of the alleged murders.

Friday’s court session concluded the first full week in Shackelford’s trial. The attorneys have estimated that because of the complicated evidence and the number of witnesses, the trial could last another eight weeks.


Dale Carter Shackelford



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