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Birdsall murder trial begins

August 11, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Carl Andrew Trenum intended to buy beer at the H-Mart when he walked past a sleeper sofa stuffed with the body of a nude dead woman that was dumped behind the convenience store.

A friend had just told him she needed a sofa for her apartment and he thought he was in luck when he found the discarded piece of furniture, Trenum testified Tuesday.

When he checked the sofa out, he made a grim discovery on March 7, 1997.

"I raised it up and I seen this leg fall out of it," Trenum said.

The body in the sofa was that of Erika Birdsall, 58. She had been stabbed 13 times in the chest and abdomen, said Detective Kevin Miller of the Martinsburg Police Department.

The first-degree murder trial of her husband, Clyde Birdsall, began Tuesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court after a jury of nine men and three women was selected.

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Prosecution witnesses are expected to continue testifying today in the case.

In her opening statement, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said prosecution witnesses will show that Erika Birdsall was killed on March 6, 1997, in the shower of the home she shared with her husband. Her body was placed into the sofa bed, which was then put into Clyde Birdsall's van, she said. A similar van and a man matching Clyde Birdsall's description were seen behind the H-Mart, Games-Neely said.

Defense attorney Paul Kramer said there is no proof the sofa came from the Birdsall home.

"I suggest they won't be able to prove it's the same sofa bed. The color is similar, style similar. They maybe even have experts testify that the sofa bed matches ridges left in the carpet fibers. But a lot of sofas might match those ridges," Kramer said.

Kramer said police spent all their time investigating Clyde Birdsall and ignored the written confession of a next-door neighbor.

The neighbor was charged with two counts of first-degree arson in the fire at the Birdsall house, then left a note admitting to killing Erika Birdsall, Kramer said.

The neighbor was questioned but cleared as a suspect in the slaying after he said he wrote the note as a prank, testified Cpl. Russell Shackelford of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, an investigator with the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force.

The neighbor is undergoing an examination to see if he is mentally capable of standing trial on the arson charges, Games-Neely said.

Martinsburg Police Detective Sgt. George Swartwood said Erika Birdsall's body was not identified until about a week after it was found.

On March 15, 1997, police went to the Birdsall home with a search warrant.

Shackelford said he questioned Clyde Birdsall while other detectives searched for evidence.

Clyde Birdsall told police his wife, who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair, had gone on a trip to her native Germany.

Clyde Birdsall told police he spoke to her last on March 8, 1997, when she departed, but her body was found a day earlier, Shackelford said.

Clyde Birdsall insisted the police would "look foolish" when she returned from her trip, Shackelford said.

He also denied killing her, Shackelford said.

"He told me if he wanted to kill her, he had many ways of doing it," Shackelford testified. "He said 'If I was going to kill her, I'd use one of my guns. Why would I mess around with a kitchen knife?' At that point I had not indicated how Erika had been killed."

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