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Wednesday, September 13, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle-Area Man Held In Ore. Slayings -- He Is Arrested In Family's Deaths

Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services

A South King County man who was arrested in Monday's shooting deaths of his estranged wife and three young daughters in Oregon was in the midst of a divorce and an unsuccessful, yearlong struggle for custody of his children, authorities said.

In the year since his wife left him, David Whitson, 35, had gone through a series of lawyers to represent him, and one of them, a South King County attorney, said yesterday that he had detected trouble.

"I just was not shocked that the call came about him at all," said the attorney, who represented Whitson last year. "There was a potential for danger - for explosion."

Whitson was arraigned on murder charges this morning in Marion County, Ore., Circuit Court with four counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of his wife, Laura Whitson, 35, and their children, Sarah, 6; Rachel, 3; and April, 6 months.

Laura Whitson's mother, Margaret Magee, who apparently was holding the baby at the time of the shootings, was shot in the arm.

She was treated at a hospital and released.

The slayings occurred about noon Monday at Magee's home in Scotts Mills, Ore., 35 miles southeast of Portland.

Laura Whitson had moved from the Seattle area a year ago to live with her mother and had obtained a restraining order against Whitson, claiming he had forced her to have sex.

One South King County lawyer said that, when he met Whitson last fall, Whitson's family had left him, he was alone, and he

recently had lost his job at The Boeing Co.

He was working for the minimum wage as a shuttle driver at a rental-car agency.

Also, Whitson had worked as a software tester for Midisoft Corp., an Issaquah company that makes musical and multimedia software.

"He wanted to reconcile with (his family)," the lawyer added. "He was consumed with that thought."

The lawyer said he withdrew from the case, partly because Whitson was adamant about pressing for increased visitation rights with his daughters at the same time that he had been notified that officials from Oregon's Services to Children and Families were investigating a complaint about Whitson.

Floyd Smith, communications manager for that agency, declined yesterday to discuss that complaint.

Bellevue attorney Mary Gaudio, who represented Whitson earlier this year, said she withdrew as his attorney because she didn't think it was possible to accomplish what Whitson wanted: primary custody of his three daughters.

But Gaudio said she was shocked by the slayings and described Whitson as prompt, reliable and courteous. The Oregon investigation had been dropped by the time she withdrew from the case two months ago, and the future seemed to be looking brighter for Whitson, she said.

"There was nothing about his personality or demeanor that led me to believe this would be possible. There was just nothing," she said.

Autopsies on the victims revealed that all died from shotgun blasts at close range, according to Marion County District Attorney Dale Penn.

Information from Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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