A 41-year-old Clinton woman accused of being an accomplice in the shotgun murder of her boyfriend’s wife pleaded guilty to a lesser charge today in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Kara Jo Buchanan confessed in a phone message to shooting the Bellingham resident last July. She attempted to kill herself by slitting her wrists, but deputies found her wandering the beach at Double Bluff on Whidbey. She was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment.
But now investigators don’t believe Buchanan was directly involved in the July 3 murder of Kriston Peterson-Dunya, a 32-year-old writer and mother of a young boy. Her estranged husband, 39-year-old Keayn Dunya, is accused of shooting her with a shotgun.
Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney David McEachran said Buchanan didn’t know about Dunya’s plans beforehand and she wasn’t there when the shooting occurred. She did, however, assist Dunya in an attempt to escape justice after the fact by confessing to the crime and providing a false alibi for Dunya, according to the prosecutor. Buchanan, formerly a massage specialist at Spa Essencia at The Inn at Langley, claimed Dunya was with her on Whidbey at the time of the murder.
As a result, Buchanan pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance in the first degree.
“We believe this charge more accurately reflects the facts of the case,” McEachran said.
Under the plea bargain, Buchanan will testify against Dunya in a trial that starts Monday. Buchanan and Dunya were originally co-defendants facing first-degree murder charges.
Buchanan will be sentenced after the trial. McEachran said he will recommend she receive 12 months in jail.
The evidence against Dunya includes surveillance video near the victim’s apartment on the day of the murder, according to the police report. The video shows Buchanan’s car parked near the apartment, but a man matching Dunya’s appearance is shown getting out of the car with a shotgun. He was wearing a jacket matching one later recovered from Buchanan’s car.
The man disappeared from view for seven minutes, then reappeared carrying the shotgun and drove away.
Dunya and the victim were going through a messy divorce and battling for custody of their son, which the police believe may have been a motive for the killing.
Investigators surmised that Buchanan broke under the pressure of the murder investigation and decided to take the blame and kill herself. She left a 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.
Police immediately started searching for Buchanan after the message was discovered. Deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office and Langley police scoured South Whidbey and eventually found her at the beach at Double Bluff. She had slit her wrists and had to undergo surgery.