Fielder sentenced to life without parole

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. ? Stephen R. Fielder's bid for a new trial or acquittal was denied Monday, meaning the Berkeley County attorney will be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

"I believe there was ample evidence before the jury that there was malice in this case," 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders said before telling Fielder, 59, that he would be incarcerated for the remaining years of his life and not be eligible for parole.

Fielder was convicted of first-degree murder last month in the grisly death of his ex-wife.

Fielder's prison term was essentially decided at the conclusion of his trial when a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and decided he would not be eligible for parole.

Though left by state law with little discretion in sentencing, Sanders on Monday did order Fielder to pay restitution for the cost of the proceedings and the cremation of the dismembered remains of his ex-wife, Debra Ann Fielder, 47.


Fielder's body parts were wrapped in garbage bags, placed in three red pieces of American Tourister luggage and dumped in Back Creek in western Berkeley County. They were weighed down with gym weights.

After two of the suitcases were found Aug. 20, 2006, by two people fishing, police later confirmed through surveillance tape that the luggage and Gold's Gym weights were purchased by Fielder at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart six days earlier.

"As I expressed at trial, I'm sorry for the death of Debra Fielder," Stephen Fielder said before he was formally sentenced.

"She was, at the time we were married, a wonderful person."

On the witness stand, Fielder claimed his ex-wife's death on Aug. 11, 2006, was an accident that happened during a confrontation at his house off Winchester Avenue (U.S. 11) in Bunker Hill, W.Va. Fielder on Monday renewed claims that he believed his ex-wife had plotted that day to "clean him out" financially because of her addiction to crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

"I don't think the court got a chance to hear she was using drugs," Fielder said.

Stephen Fielder separately criticized the health care community for the treatment he received for the strokes he suffered leading up to his ex-wife's homicide and claimed he was still impaired. Fielder then asked Sanders to send him to a psychiatric hospital for a full medical evaluation.

"It's always somebody else's fault," Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely responded. "The jury spoke; it's his fault."

"For once in his life, make him responsible for what he did," Games-Neely added in her statement to the court.

Fielder said he couldn't see how being sentenced to life in prison would be anything but a burden to the taxpayers.

"I don't see how that serves anybody's best interests," Fielder said.

"I realize that having worked in the legal system that once the wheels of justice begin to move, bad things can happen," said Fielder, who was disbarred from practicing law by the West Virginia Bar before his arrest.

Linda Johnson, a friend of Debra Fielder's, read a statement, saying she was thanking the jury saw through Stephen Fielder's "arrogance" and the manipulative letter he wrote to her from Eastern Regional Jail.

Johnson said she once loved Stephen Fielder as a brother, but noted he had sealed his fate by his own actions with Debra Fielder's homicide.

"Stephen Fielder by his own admission made several horrific decisions that have changed many lives, his own included," said Johnson, who cried throughout much of her statement.

"I will never sing with my friend Deb again. I will never celebrate another holiday with her or share a joke or enjoy a family dinner with her, never again."

"My prayer is that you will seek God and accept his forgiveness," Johnson concluded before asking the judge to give Fielder the mercy he gave his ex-wife ? "none."

In his motion for a new trial or judge of acquittal, Fielder's attorney, B. Craig Manford, argued the court should not have allowed evidence that the markings on the victim's left ear were made by "Max," his client's pet prairie dog because it had little relevance and was inflammatory.

Manford also argued that photographs of the victim's body shown to the jury were unnecessary because dental records verified her identity. The defense attorney also questioned the court's decision to disallow a taped interview of a defense witness, who was unavailable for the trial. The status of Fielder's law license was not supposed to be part of the trial proceedings, either, Manford argued in his motions.

Manford is expected to renew the motions in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

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