Testimony continues in Fielder murder trial in Martinsburg

November 08, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Investigators found 38 stab wounds on Debra Ann Fielder's dismembered body, a West Virginia medical examiner testified Wednesday during the murder trial of the woman's ex-husband, Stephen R. Fielder.

The 47-year-old woman's remains yielded evidence that her death was caused by "assault-type" sharp force injuries and blunt force trauma - including several cracked ribs and bruises, said Nabila Haikal, a West Virginia deputy chief medical examiner.

After the victim died, an animal appeared to be "feeding" on the body, causing a loss of tissue from her left ear and two fingers, Haikal told jurors seated for the trial in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Fielder, 59, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his ex-wife in August 2006. The victim's remains were found packed with weights in three pieces of red luggage partially submerged in Back Creek in western Berkeley County.


On Wednesday, Debra Fielder's auto mechanic testified that he inspected the Volkswagen that she drove to his repair shop on Friday, Aug. 11, one of the last days police believe she was alive.

"She told me she just got back to town," said Richard W. Barnes. The vehicle passed inspection, he said.

On Aug. 14, at Wal-Mart in Martinsburg, Stephen Fielder's debit card purchase of four Gold's Gym brand plate-style weights and a red, four-piece set of American Tourister luggage was finalized at 9:49 p.m., according to a receipt obtained from the store by West Virginia State Police Cpl. Brian Bean.

"At the time, he had a long ponytail," Bean explained to jurors who were shown video surveillance recordings of Fielder making the purchase and leaving the store. The barcode-tracked sale of the luggage and weights was the only such purchase in a three-month period and the luggage recovered in Back Creek still had a matching tag number attached, Bean said.

After linking the luggage to Fielder and learning the victim was female, Bean said a database available to law enforcement agencies generated records indicating Fielder had three ex-wives, which ultimately led investigators to Debra Fielder. Police were able to quickly contact the other two women, Bean said.

Eventually, the identity of Fielder's remains were confirmed through dental records kept by Brian Palank, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., dentist who testified Wednesday that both Fielders had been his patients.

John Carson, the state's chief dental examiner, testified that he was able to use Palank's X-ray records to positively identify Debra Fielder.

Carson was less certain that the bite marks found along the edge of Debra Fielder's left ear and fingers were caused by Max, Stephen Fielder's pet prairie dog, which West Virginia State Police Sgt. Dean Olack testified Wednesday was found in a small cage at the home of the accused.

"At that time, I wasn't even sure what the animal was," Olack said.

After talking with the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner about the bite marks, Olack said the prairie dog was taken to Morgantown, W.Va., where a veterinarian put the animal to sleep so Carson could obtain a mold of the animal's two teeth on his lower jaw.

Carson said one of the animal's teeth fit "quite nicely" in the impression left among a 2.5-centimeter area of the victim's ear where "multiple" bite marks were noted.

But because he only had one tooth mark for clear comparison, Carson said he could only conclude that he felt Fielder's pet "more likely than not" caused the loss of tissue on Fielder's ear and two fingers. Fielder's fingers were not in a viable condition for testing, Carson said.

Jurors on Wednesday also heard testimony from Smithsonian Institution expert Douglas Owsley, who explained how he was able to verify "without question" that all of the dismembered remains recovered in the suitcases only comprised Debra Fielder's body.

Because the head was severed from the torso, Haikal said she couldn't rule out strangulation as a factor in Fielder's death.

Of the 38 stab wounds, Haikal said two were documented on Fielder's face, with the remainder on her back and front torso and buttocks areas.

Investigating Trooper F.H. Edwards testified that about 22 stab marks were documented on the back side of the suitcase found containing the torso, but Haikal said she was unable to match the punctures of the cloth with any of the wounds.

Haikal said she was able to conclude that at least two of the stab wounds were caused before Fielder died, but was less sure about the others because of the body's submergence in water.

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