Forensic psychiatrist to evaluate Fielder

Attorney says strokes impaired defendantâEUR(TM)s mental capacity

Attorney says strokes impaired defendantâEUR(TM)s mental capacity

October 22, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. ? An attorney accused in the gruesome slaying of his ex-wife last year will be evaluated this week to determine whether strokes impaired his mental ability to control his impulses when police allege he repeatedly stabbed the woman.

Stephen R. Fielder, 59, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was indicted in February 2007 on one count of first-degree murder in the death of 47-year-old Debra Ann Fielder.

The planned evaluation of Fielder this week in Morgantown, W.Va., by a forensic psychiatrist was approved by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders as part of an effort to avoid further delay of Fielder's trial, which is set to begin Nov. 6.

Fielder's trial was expected to begin in July, but defense attorney B. Craig Manford in a June court hearing told Sanders he was having a difficult time getting copies of his client's medical records from health-care providers.


Manford told Sanders on Monday that he had a difficult time trying to find a neurologist in the region who was willing to take the case, and he filed a motion to reschedule the trial again.

After several doctors in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey declined to take the case, a West Virginia University neurologist agreed to review it in September, Manford said.

But earlier this month, Manford said neurologist Marc W. Haut told him that he was unable to conduct an evaluation to determine whether stroke-related damage to Fielder's brain verified in 2003 diminished his ability to premeditate, be deliberate or form a specific intent, all elements of the first-degree murder charge.

On Oct. 11, Manford said he "pleaded" with forensic WVU Hospitals psychiatrist Ryan F. Finkenbine at Chestnut Ridge Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., to handle the evaluation, and the doctor agreed.

"In hindsight, I think I should have tried WVU first," Manford told Sanders.

Because of the last-minute arrangement, Manford said Finkenbine was unable to travel to Eastern Regional Jail, where Fielder is incarcerated, to conduct the evaluation.

"There's no other way to get him evaluated with the time restraints we got now," Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely said before Sanders approved the transport order. "We're working hand-in-hand with the sheriff's department and the jail to get him up there."

A Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputy is expected to escort Fielder to Morgantown.

If Finkenbine's examination supports a diminished mental capacity defense for Fielder, Sanders is expected to grant the motion to reschedule the trial because Games-Neely likely would want more time to review the findings or have another evaluation performed, Manford said after the hearing.

Aside from the diminished capacity defense, Games-Neely and Manford told Sanders there were few pretrial matters left to resolve other than photographs and a notice of intent to use evidence filed by the prosecuting attorney to present witnesses that she said would show Fielder's "explosive temper."

In a notice filed with the court Monday, Games-Neely said that aspect of the state's case would be based on the defendant's prior relationships and a letter Fielder wrote to a woman since he was jailed without bond Sept. 18, 2006.

His ex-wife's dismembered body was found Aug. 20, 2006, in Back Creek by two people fishing the western Berkeley County stream. Authorities have said she was last known to be alive nine days earlier.

Games-Neely on Monday also provided the court with the names of 50 witnesses who may testify for the state's case against Fielder, whose license to practice law in West Virginia was suspended in 2005.

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