Fielder trial to start in Berkeley County

November 06, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The trial for a man accused of killing his ex-wife, dismembering her body and dumping it in a Berkeley County stream last year is to begin this morning with what is expected to be a challenging jury selection process for the high-profile case.

A jury pool of 150 people was sought for Bunker Hill, W.Va., attorney Stephen R. Fielder's murder trial, but 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders said Monday that only nine of 50 additional prospective jurors contacted by the Berkeley County Circuit Clerk's office were available.

"We may get lucky and still get it," Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely of the large jury pool wanted for the trial in the gruesome homicide of Fielder's ex-wife, Debra Ann Fielder.

Games-Neely said a 100-person pool was more likely for the trial, which is expected to continue into next week.

Part of the delay came about because West Virginia State Police troopers expected to testify for the state's evidence presentation will attend the funeral service for Trooper Brian W. Linn in Elkins, W.Va., on Thursday. Games-Neely also noted members of Eastern Panhandle Drug & Violent Crime Task Force were testifying in a murder trial in Louisiana and also were not expected to be readily available, either.


Given the large jury pool and limited seating in the county's new judicial center, Sanders told Games-Neely and defense attorney B. Craig Manford he had arranged to use a second courtroom to individually question jurors in the selection process.

In a pretrial hearing Monday, Games-Neely won arguments to show jurors "horrific" photographs of Debra Ann Fielder's decomposed remains. The 47-year-old woman's body was cut up and put into three pieces of luggage along with gym weights and dumped into Back Creek. Her body was found Aug. 20, 2006, about nine days after she was last known to be alive.

One photograph apparently depicts bite marks from a pet prairie dog that was at Stephen Fielder's home, and Games-Neely defended her need to show it to the jury because of the apparent connection to where the victim died.

Fielder, 59, was indicted in February 2007, on one count of first-degree murder. His trial was set to begin in July, but Manford had told Sanders he had difficulty obtaining Stephen Fielder's medical records to explore a mental capacity defense in connection with his client's strokes.

On Monday, Manford told Sanders that the results of a long-sought mental evaluation of his client's impulse control did not come back "favorable" and the attorney also indicated he didn't have any foundation to make insanity claims on behalf of Fielder, either.

While arguing the merits of allowing the photographs to be part of the trial, Games-Neely said a fourth piece of the American Tourister brand luggage was still missing, and suggested it might contain the weapons used in the crime.

Sanders allowed her to show the jury a photograph of a saw. An expert is expected to explain how he was able to determine it wasn't the tool used to dismember the victim.

The judge was somewhat concerned about showing jurors photographs of the victim's severed legs that were tinted red, a characteristic of film development that even Games-Neely admitted was "poor."

Games-Neely said she would attempt to "gray-scale" the photographs to offset what Manford said would be inflammatory to the jury.

Aside from the photographs, Sanders agreed to allow testimony by one of Fielder's former spouses, who is expected to testify about the defendant's supposed "explosive temper" in intimate relationships.

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