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Fielder to testify wife's death was accidental

W.Va. man on trial for first-degree murder

W.Va. man on trial for first-degree murder

November 09, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. ? Stephen R. Fielder is expected to testify in his trial next week that his ex-wife's death in August 2006 was accidental and came about after she threatened to lock him out of his own house in an attempt to steal from him, his attorney told jurors Friday.

Fielder, 59, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was indicted in February 2007 by a Berkeley County grand jury on one count of first-degree murder in the death of Debra Ann Fielder, 47.

After Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely finished the state's presentation of evidence, defense attorney B. Craig Manford told the jury in his opening statement that the victim fell down the steps leading to the basement of his client's house when he tried to stop her from locking him out.

"... He hears the lady expel her last breath" after her head struck concrete and her ribs fractured after crashing down several steps, Manford said.

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"He will tell you that he made a decision to dispose of the body," Manford said, acknowledging that "was the worst part" of his client's actions.

"He wasn't thinking straight," said Manford, adding that his client didn't think anyone would believe his account of her death.

After the jury was released for the weekend, Stephen Fielder told presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders that he wanted to testify, and he appeared to be joking when he said his attorney "kind of put me on the hook" to take the stand.

Fielder's attorney disputes pathologist's findings

The trial is expected to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.

On Friday, Manford highlighted some of the uncertainty in a state forensic pathologist's findings, specifically whether the stab wounds came before or after Fielder died. Investigators documented 38 stab wounds on the woman's body after her decomposing, dismembered remains were found in partially submerged luggage in Back Creek in August and September 2006. Fielder's cause of death was a combination of blunt force trauma and "assault-type" sharp force injuries, according to testimony given earlier this week.

Manford on Friday did not give any indication that he would dispute Fielder's death happened at his client's home at 9280 Winchester Ave. Eight swabs of blood evidence that a West Virginia State Police forensics laboratory expert tesitifed on Wednesday contained Debra Fielder's DNA were taken from a wall and a bottle sitting on a ledge along stairs leading to the basement, State Police Trooper J.S. Chumley said.

Victim seen at defendent's home

Jurors on Friday also heard a secretly recorded conversation on Sept. 7, 2006, that Fielder had with State Police Sgt. James Merrill and Cpl. Robert Copson at his law office before he was arrested.

In that conversation, Fielder said his ex-wife had moved to North Carolina with another woman after they were evicted from a Gerrardstown, W.Va., area apartment.

Witnesses for the the state's case on Friday contradicted that claim, testifying that they had talked with the victim on Fielder's telephone or saw her at his house in the last several weeks before her death.

On the evening of Aug. 14, 2006, neighbor Barbara Hicks said she saw the estranged couple on the front porch of his home when she drove by. That night, Stephen Fielder was recorded by surveillance equipment at Wal-Mart purchasing American Tourister brand luggage and the gym weights found with her remains in Back Creek near the intersection of Tuscarora Pike and Buck Hill Road. Two of the three pieces of luggage were found Aug. 20.

"I met them through their dogs," Hicks said of an occasion when the canines strayed into her apartment complex parking lot.

Hicks said the victim was very attached to Riley, a small black dog that police found in her ex-husband's possesion, along with a prairie dog on Sept. 7, 2006.

"She would never go anywhere without him," Hicks said.

In his conversation with police, Fielder said he was caring for the dog because Debra Fielder's boyfriend in North Carolina lived in "HUD housing" and wasn't allowed to have any pets.

Former coworker Mary C. Davis testified Friday that she called Debra Fielder at her ex-husband's home on Aug. 14, 2006, after receiving a message at her job at Burger King.

"I asked for her, he said she was not there and that she had made her choices and went to North Carolina with her boyfriend," Davis said.

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