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News / Clark County News

Vancouver man acquitted in stabbing death of estranged wife Star Murrah when judge rules he’s criminally insane

Slain woman’s family, supporters decry outcome

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: June 6, 2024, 6:03pm
5 Photos
Rene Hanson, from left, joins Angel Ristau and her mom, Jenn Ristau, on the steps of the Clark County Courthouse after Michael Murrah, the estranged husband of their friend, Star Murrah, was found not guilty by reason of insanity Thursday in her 2021 killing. All three women were close friends of Star Murrah&rsquo;s, and the 45-year-old was Angel Ristau&rsquo;s godmother. &ldquo;She was like a second mom,&rdquo; she said.
Rene Hanson, from left, joins Angel Ristau and her mom, Jenn Ristau, on the steps of the Clark County Courthouse after Michael Murrah, the estranged husband of their friend, Star Murrah, was found not guilty by reason of insanity Thursday in her 2021 killing. All three women were close friends of Star Murrah’s, and the 45-year-old was Angel Ristau’s godmother. “She was like a second mom,” she said. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A man who stabbed his estranged wife to death in 2021 was acquitted by reason of insanity Thursday, leading to outcry from her loved ones, who said the system failed her.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Suzan Clark found Michael Murrah, 48, not guilty by reason of insanity after hearing from two forensic psychologists and reading the report of a third who evaluated his mental health. Clark ordered he be committed to Western State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital, possibly for the rest of his life.

He was accused of attacking Star Murrah, 45, on Nov. 7, 2021, at her home in Vancouver’s Arnada neighborhood, while their then-8-year-old son was present. Michael Murrah was charged in Superior Court with aggravated first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, if he was convicted.

The defense agreed Michael Murrah killed Star Murrah but said he was experiencing hallucinations commanding him to do so.

10 Photos
Defendant Michael Murrah, left, is overcome by emotion while joined by his lawyer, defense attorney Shon Bogar, at the Clark County Courthouse on Thursday morning, June 6, 2024.
Michael Murrah acquitted by reason of insanity Photo Gallery

The courtroom’s gallery was full of family, friends, neighbors and supporters of Star Murrah. Several people, including Michael Murrah, became emotional during the hearing, particularly when prosecutors played the roughly eight-minute 911 call.

“As I say, it’s not a popular decision. Star Murrah lost her life, and I’m sure many of you will feel this is not justice,” Clark told the gallery. “But, sometimes, the job I have is not to make the most popular decision but to make a decision on the basis of the law.”

Although the three psychologists disagreed about their diagnoses of Michael Murrah, they agreed he was experiencing psychosis, and he was unable to tell right from wrong.

Clark said her ruling was “probably one of the most difficult days I’ve experienced in 38 years as a judge and lawyer.” She said the case shows society’s failure to treat mental illness. The judge, defense attorney and prosecutor all called the case a tragedy.

Star Murrah’s sister, Gina Kimberlin, said outside the courthouse that Thursday’s hearing was the first time the family heard the 911 call. Many in the courtroom sobbed as they listened to the call, made by a neighbor who was by Star Murrah’s side as she struggled to breathe after the stabbing.

Kimberlin said she recognized the judge’s hands were tied based on the psychologists’ testimony but added that the ruling does not give the family closure.

“We’ve been fighting for her for 2½ years,” Kimberlin said. “With three evaluations, there was no way she would have been able to go the opposite way and send him to trial.”

Clark also ordered Michael Murrah have no contact with Star Murrah’s family or the couple’s son. Kimberlin said her nephew gave her and her husband a hug before they boarded the plane in California to travel to Vancouver for Thursday’s hearing, and the boy thanked them for fighting for his mom.

After the judge ordered Michael Murrah’s commitment, Kimberlin read a statement to the court. She, her mother and her brother held up photos of Star Murrah. She told Clark about her sister’s upbringing and the way she loved her son.

Kimberlin said her sister did everything right to try to protect herself. She noted Star Murrah had called police multiple times to report incidents of abuse, but police said they never found probable cause for a crime. Star Murrah had also sought a protection order against her husband, which a Superior Court commissioner denied.

Kimberlin then turned to Michael Murrah and addressed him. She held up a photo of Star Murrah’s grave site and told him, “This is how (your son) visits his mother now.”

“The pain you caused our family will never subside,” she told Michael Murrah. “We will always be here to remind you of the pain you caused. You will never have peace, just as you tried to take our peace away.”

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Michelle Bart, founder of the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, which represents Star Murrah’s family, said outside the courthouse the stabbing never would’ve happened if people took Star Murrah’s concerns for her safety seriously.

“If we don’t use the tools that we have put into place, what good are they?” Bart said. “Our tax dollars pay for that stuff, and if they’re not being used to save a life, why are we doing this? Why are we here? This family has had to fight almost three years of this because somebody in this building did not listen to a victim of domestic violence that asked for help. That is why we’re here today.”

Kimberlin said Michael Murrah tried to tell her he was sorry, but she told him she doesn’t believe him.

Moving forward, Kimberlin and her husband said they will now seek to adopt Star Murrah’s son to “solidify his well-being and his future.”