Clinton woman named in murder enters not-guilty plea
July 27, 2011 · Updated 1:00 PM
BELLINGHAM — The Clinton woman accused in the murder of a Bellingham resident has changed her story.
Kara Jo Buchanan was arraigned in Whatcom County Superior Court Friday morning on a charge of first-degree murder and entered a plea of not guilty.
Authorities said Buchanan and her boyfriend, Keayn Dunya, plotted the murder of Dunya’s estranged wife, Kriston Peterson-Dunya, who was found dead in her Bellingham apartment July 5 of a gunshot wound to her chest.
Although Buchanan confessed to the killing in a voicemail message to police earlier this month, authorities now believe it was Keayn Dunya who committed the murder.
Dunya was also arraigned for first-degree murder on Friday, and entered a plea of not guilty.
Buchanan is being charged as an accomplice, basically the same as if she’d committed the crime herself, said Whatcom Prosecuting Attorney David McEachran.
McEachran said a trial date has been set for Sept. 12, though he added he would be shocked if the defense did not ask for more time to prepare.
Buchanan is being represented by Jon Komorowski, a Whatcom County public defender, while Dunya is being defended by Thomas Fryer, a private attorney.
Buchanan and Dunya are currently being held in the Whatcom County Jail, and the bail for each has been set at $1 million.
Under conditions of bail approved by the court earlier, the couple cannot leave Whatcom County without prior permission of the court, and can’t try to contact the victim’s family or communicate with each other.
Buchanan was the prime suspect in the days after Peterson-Dunya, a 32-year-old writer and mother of a 7-year-old boy, was found dead in her apartment by one of her co-workers at a Bellingham Barnes & Noble. But soon after an island-wide search on Whidbey for Buchanan drew widespread media interest, authorities indicated Keayn Dunya was responsible for the murder.
Dunya originally told police he was with Buchanan on Whidbey Island from the evening of July 1 through the early morning hours of July 4. Authorities believe the murder took place July 3.
Bellingham police arrested Buchanan July 7 in Freeland after an extensive search across South Whidbey. They found her at Double Bluff Beach with her wrists slashed; she was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center for surgery and was later released to Bellingham Police.
According to court documents, earlier the day of her arrest, Buchanan left a voicemail message on a detective’s phone saying, “I wanted to let you know that it was me ... I got her with a single gunshot blast to the chest.”
“I thought I could do it. I thought I could keep my family, but the guilt got to me. Jesus Christ. Hopefully by the time you read this, I’ll be dead,” she said in the message.
When police searched her Clinton home, they recovered a 20-gauge shotgun and ammunition. They also found a burned spot in the yard, along with a black plastic bag in the kitchen containing burned debris.
In her confession, Buchanan referenced details from the crime scene, including “the severed tip of a latex glove” and 26 hydrocodone pills that were strewn around the victim’s body, according to court documents.
She also said she “drove up in her Toyota Avalon,” she was wearing a red jacket and she burned evidence at her house.
Surveillance videos from the day of the murder, however, show Buchanan’s vehicle parked near the victim’s apartment, but a man matching Dunya’s appearance is shown getting out of the car and holding a long-barreled shotgun. He was wearing a jacket matching one later recovered from Buchanan’s car.
The man disappeared from the cameras’ view for seven minutes, then he reappeared carrying the shotgun and drove away.
Dunya and his wife were going through a divorce and were battling for custody of their 7-year-old son, Kai, which may have been the motive for the killing, according to police.
Authorities believe Buchanan tried to provide an alibi for Dunya, but as the investigation increased pressure on both of them, Buchanan took the blame for the murder and attempted to take her own life.