Key witness to testify this week in Sherer trial
by Ian Ith
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Prosecutors in the Steven Sherer murder trial say the testimony this week of one of their key witnesses, Toby Parker, will be vital in convincing a jury that Sherer killed his wife 10 years ago.

Parker, one of the last people to see Jami Sherer alive, will testify that he was with her at a Seattle motel the night before she vanished and that the Redmond woman was terrified of her husband, who had threatened more than once to kill her if she ever cheated on him, prosecutors say.

Parker is also expected to testify that he warned Jami Sherer not to go home to her husband.

But Sherer's lawyers say Parker is as important a witness to them as to the prosecution.

They will portray him as a drug dealer who slept with Jami Sherer the night before she disappeared, lived near where her car was later found abandoned and, most of all, was a suspect with a questionable alibi whom the police never seriously investigated in the woman's disappearance.

Parker is expected to testify tomorrow or Thursday, as Sherer's first-degree murder trial in King County Superior Court enters its second week.

Prosecutors are expected to calla string of witnesses, mostly close friends of Jami Sherer's family, to try to make the jury believe that Steven Sherer was abusive and that he had transformed his wife from an energetic, clean-cut mother, daughter and friend to a cocaine-snorting, complacent shell of her former self.

Prosecutors say the abuse was so overwhelming that Sherer persuaded his wife to use drugs and participate in three-way sex with his friends, including Parker.

Jami Sherer's body has never been found. Prosecutors say circumstantial evidence will show Sherer killed her in a rage and hid her body after she threatened to leave him.

Sherer's lawyers say their client is not only not guilty but that the prosecutors' case is based on weak evidence concocted by Jami Sherer's family. The lawyers also fault Redmond police detectives, who they say never really pursued other suspects.

It is one of the few murder cases without a body as evidence ever to be tried in Washington.

And its outcome may hinge upon which portrayal of Toby Parker jurors believe.

Lawyers for both sides have said in court that in 1990 Parker supplied Steven Sherer with cocaine and that he was enlisted by Sherer to fulfill a fascination with watching his wife have sex with other men. At least once, Sherer video-taped the menage a trois, prosecutors say. The judge hasn't decided whether to allow the jury to see a tape.

The night before Jami Sherer disappeared, she had a clandestine date with Parker, winding up at the Crest Motel on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle.

What happened next is in dispute.

Prosecutors say Parker merely comforted Jami Sherer that night as she quaked at the thought of their affair being discovered by her husband.

"She was saying over and over, `God, I hope Steve doesn't find us,' " Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman said in opening statements last week.

The defense is expected to say Parker and Jami Sherer had sex that night. They say the police should have more seriously pursued Parker as a suspect, especially because Jami Sherer's car was found abandoned in Shoreline - closer to Parker's home than to the Sherers' Redmond house. And they reject Parker's alibi.

"You'd think they would have searched his haunts and habitats for bodies and such, but there's no evidence any of that occurred," defense attorney Peter Mair said. "Yet they've searched my client up one side and down the other."

Meanwhile, the case brought prolific true-crime author Ann Rule to court yesterday to take notes in preparation for writing about the case as the centerpiece to her next collection of crime tales, "Empty Promises," due out in December. Rule, who has published dozens of true-crime books, is probably most famous for "The Stranger Beside Me," about Northwest serial killer Ted Bundy.

Ian Ith's phone message number is 206-464-2109.