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W.Va. man sentenced for firearms violation

October 14, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An Inwood, W.Va., man suspected in the death of his wife was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to 37 months in prison on a federal firearms violation.

Clyde Lee Birdsall, 54, was also ordered by Judge W. Craig Broadwater to spend three years on supervised release after serving the sentence. A Berkeley County Circuit Court grand jury will determine whether he will be indicted in the death of 57-year-old Erica E. Birdsall, whose nude body was found stuffed in a sleeper sofa behind a Martinsburg Plaza convenience store on March 7.

Birdsall was arrested on March 15 after police searched his Vivian Drive home in the Camelot subdivision and found two .22-caliber rifles and a .30-caliber rifle. As a result of the search, he was indicted on charges of being a felon in possession of three firearms and making a false statement in connection with the purchase of a firearm because he failed to report he was a felon.

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On June 18, Birdsall pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the firearms indictment, according to court records. He received no fine in the sentence handed down Tuesday. The false statement charge, stemming from the purchase last November of one of the rifles at Wal-Mart in Martinsburg, was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

The indictment cited a 1992 felony third-offense DUI conviction in Bedford County, Pa., by Birdsall. After his March arrest, a criminal history check by Martinsburg City Police showed he had been convicted of a May 17, 1973 burglary in Arizona. He had also been arrested by Maryland State Police on Nov. 20, 1968 for assault and battery and two counts of assault with intent to murder.

A grand jury is scheduled to meet next week in Berkeley County Circuit Court, but Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said it is unlikely that the Birdsall murder case will be considered by that panel. She said Tuesday the state's case will rely to a large extent on forensic evidence and "as of this date, they're not all back."

Games-Neely said the results of those tests are "critical for consideration before the grand jury and it's not likely they'll be received before the grand jury meets."

If the case does not go before the grand jury next week, the next panel meets in February.

At the time the slaying was discovered, neighbors said Erica Birdsall may have suffered from multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. The couple had moved to the subdivision in the summer of 1996, according to neighbors.

Her body was found behind the H-Mart convenience store with several stab wounds to the stomach and chest, according to police records.

Clyde Birdsall has been held without bond in the Eastern Regional Jail since a U.S. Magistrate filed an order with the court on March 26. That order noted that he had been a resident of Berkeley County for only 18 months, had no family ties in the area and was a suspect in the murder of his wife.

Fawn Thomas, secretary to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said the U.S. Marshal Service will determine where Birdsall will serve his sentence on the firearms conviction. Whether he will be given credit for time served will be decided by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, she said.

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