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Originally published October 22, 2010 at 2:54 PM | Page modified October 23, 2010 at 12:11 AM

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Guilty verdict in slaying of dog trainer

Michiel Oakes was convicted Friday of first-degree premeditated murder in the slaying of T. Mark Stover, an acclaimed dog trainer with a who's-who list of clients that included Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Mariners outfielder Ichiro.

Seattle Times staff reporter

MOUNT VERNON — Michiel Oakes told jurors in his murder trial that he was afraid they wouldn't believe he killed his girlfriend's ex-husband in self-defense.

Turns out, he was right.

After 3 ½ days of deliberations, a Skagit County Superior Court jury on Friday convicted Oakes of first-degree premeditated murder in the slaying of T. Mark Stover, an acclaimed dog trainer with a who's-who list of clients that included members of Pearl Jam, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Mariners outfielder Ichiro.

Oakes' two daughters, ages 14 and 17, burst into tears when the verdict was read, and the younger girl's screams filled the courtroom. The girls as well as Oakes' 12-year-old son were consoled by Oakes' girlfriend, Linda Opdycke.

"This is horrible to watch," said one man in the courtroom who did not want to be named, "but Oakes brought it on himself."

Oakes hugged his children before being led away in handcuffs by sheriff's deputies.

Prosecutors said Oakes faces 20 to 26 years in prison. A sentencing date hasn't been set, but it's expected in about 40 days.

Jurors refused to speak with the attorneys or the media after the verdict was announced. They were escorted out of the courthouse a short time later.

Oakes, 42, admitted during the nearly three-week trial that he killed Stover on Oct. 28, 2009, during a meeting at Stover's Anacortes-area home. But Oakes claimed the fatal shot was fired after Stover, 57, pointed a handgun at him and the two men wrestled over the weapon. He testified that Stover lured him to the meeting by threatening his children, saying he could "reach out and touch" them any time he wanted.

During the contentious trial, the prosecution and defense attorneys grappled over several elements of Oakes' story, including the fatal encounter and Oakes' claim he had purchased camouflage clothing, rope and weights beforehand in case he had to escape. Prosecutors questioned why Oakes, a security expert, never reported Stover's alleged threats to police and why he went willingly to the home of a man he believed to be dangerous.

Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich said in his closing argument that Oakes' story defied reason and he urged jurors to use "common sense" in their deliberations.

The trial drew national media interest because of Stover's work with celebrities and because Opdycke, his ex-wife, is the daughter of a wealthy Eastside entrepreneur who once co-owned Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery and ski manufacturer K2 Corp. The mystery was compounded by the fact that Stover's body, which Oakes claimed he dumped into the Swinomish Channel, has never been found.

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"We're happy with the verdict," Weyrich said. "We think the evidence justified it, but I was pleased that the jury took the time they did. There was a lot of stuff to sort through."

"Mark didn't deserve anything but what happened today," said Morey Wetherald, a longtime client of Stover's who followed the trial closely. "It's a tragedy for the Oakes family, but justice has been served."

Oakes met Opdycke about one year before the slaying when she sought his advice on how to better protect herself from her ex-husband. Opdycke testified during the trial that Stover had stalked, harassed and threatened her during their separation and divorce. Stover was convicted of stalking his ex-wife after their divorce.

Oakes' defense attorneys, John Henry Browne and Corbin Volluz, told jurors Stover was obsessed with Opdycke and with obtaining photos from their wedding.

According to Oakes, Stover first confronted him in a parking lot near his home, where he described the clothing Oakes' children were wearing that day. Oakes said Stover demanded he look for the pictures from Stover and Opdycke's 2002 wedding.

Over the next couple of months, Oakes testified, Stover confronted him several times, including one time in Montana. He also said Stover called him and asked him to meet at a church near Stover's house, and at that meeting demanded Oakes meet at his house Oct. 28.

Oakes said he agreed to the meeting because he hoped to placate Stover and convince him the photos no longer existed.

Before the meeting, Oakes said, he armed himself, donned a bulletproof vest and put together a getaway bag with the camouflage clothing, the weights and the rope. He told jurors his plan was to change clothes, race through the woods and climb a nearby water tower using the rope and weights to pull down an elevated ladder.

According to prosecutors, Oakes might have gotten away with murder had he not been seen trespassing behind a building near Stover's Anacortes-area home on the day the dog trainer went missing.

Two witnesses had seen cars belonging to Stover and Oakes parked back to back behind the Summit Park Grange, less than a mile from Stover's home, and they reported seeing a man moving something that "looked like a body wrapped in a tarp," according to the Skagit County Sheriff's Office.

Oakes' ex-wife, Jennifer Thompson of Everett, testified that she saw Oakes the day of the slaying and he seemed nervous and out of sorts. He told her he had been hired for a dangerous mission and the job had "gone bad."

After the verdict was announced, Stover's niece, Julia Simmons, said, "It's such a weight off our shoulders, but we won't have full closure until we find him."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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