Opening statements made in Fielder trial

November 06, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. ? Scientific methods used to identify the stabbed, dismembered and decomposed remains of the white woman found in a western Berkeley County stream last year had all but failed.

No one had reported the 47-year-old woman missing before or after her body was found partially submerged in Back Creek in red luggage packed with gym weights.

No fingerprints, dental records or DNA samples were available to police for comparison. And no one recognized the computer-generated composite that was released to the public days after most of her remains were found Aug. 20, 2006.

"We were forensically stuck ..." Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely told a jury of eight men and four women Tuesday on the first day of the murder trial of Stephen R. Fielder, a Bunker Hill, W.Va., attorney.


Fielder is accused of killing his ex-wife, Debra Ann Fielder.

Tracing luggage led to defendant

In opening statements, Games-Neely credited West Virginia State Police Trooper Brian Bean for the idea of tracing the origin of the luggage, which ultimately led to the indictment of Fielder, 59, in February 2007 and the identity of his ex-wife.

"This case is about murder and only about murder," said Games-Neely, who is seeking a first-degree murder conviction.

Defense attorney B. Craig Manford told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders that he would reserve his opening statements for his presentation of evidence, which isn't expected to begin until Friday afternoon or possibly next week.

On Tuesday, Games-Neely said UPC codes on the American Tourister brand luggage led them to Wal-Mart because it was a type made in China exclusively for the retail giant. At Martinsburg's store, Games-Neely said investigators received their "first lucky break."

Surveillance video there recorded only one sale of the red luggage and gym weights "and that was done by Stephen Fielder," Games-Neely told the jury that was selected after four hours of group and individual questioning.

Luggage found with body parts inside

Quick to admit that purchase alone would not incriminate Fielder, Games-Neely said she would present evidence in the trial that would show the victim was staying at his home when she was last believed to be alive and that he admitted to killing her in a letter written from Eastern Regional Jail.

Games-Neely said jurors would learn through expert testimony how Max, "the family pet" prairie dog at Stephen Fielder's home at 9280 Winchester Ave. was responsible for making rodent marks on the victim's body.

Investigating West Virginia State Police Trooper F.H. Edwards testified Tuesday that the largest of the four-piece luggage set purchased by Fielder contained a 10-pound Gold's Gym weight and the torso of Debra Fielder. He said the suitcase had about 22 stab marks from a sharp object that penetrated the luggage cloth.

The suitcase and a duffel-like bag that contained her head, arms and hands were found by two people fishing in Back Creek about three-tenths of a mile south of the bridge at the intersection of Tuscarora Pike and Buck Hill Road, Edwards said. A small, mud-stained suitcase containing her legs and feet was found in the creek by the neighboring property owner about three weeks after the initial discovery, Edwards said while showing the luggage to the jury.

All of the remains were in garbage bags, zip-tied shut and found partially submerged in the water in the luggage. A fourth piece of the luggage set, possibly containing a murder weapon or tools used to dismember Fielder's body, was never found.

After identifying the remains, Edwards said investigators went to Fielder's home, where he said they saw the prairie dog, a groundhog-like animal that he said weighed 15 to 20 pounds, in a cage. Edwards said they also noted Fielder had a small, black dog, which Games-Neely said had belonged to his ex-wife and was further evidence of her residing there.

Edwards said he received evidence that Debra Fielder had visited an auto repair shop in Berkeley County to have her vehicle inspected Aug. 11, one of the last days she was seen alive.

Edwards said evidence compiled suggested her death could have happened sometime between Aug. 11 and 14, the day Games-Neely said Fielder purchased the luggage.

Before the jury selection process started Tuesday, concerns were raised about having enough jurors for the high-profile case, but 28 people in the jury pool still remained in the gallery of Sanders' courtroom by the time selection process ended at 1:35 p.m..

At the end of her closing statement, Games-Neely apologized in advance to the jury for the graphic photos that she is expected to show them as part of her presentation, which will be put on hold Thursday when West Virginia State Police officers attend the funeral service of Trooper Brian W. Linn in Elkins, W.Va.

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