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Debra Ann Fielder's remains released

Ex-husband, a former attorney, got life for 2006 slaying

W.Va. murder victim will be laid to rest

Ex-husband, a former attorney, got life for 2006 slaying

March 25, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The remains of Debra Ann Fielder, the ex-wife of a former attorney who was convicted last fall of killing her in August 2006, are expected to be laid to rest next month - possibly on her birthday.

A motion requesting the release of Fielder's body from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of West Virginia was granted Monday by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders.

Fielder was 47 years old when her dismembered body was found in three pieces of red American Tourister luggage partially submerged in Back Creek in western Berkeley County.

Her ex-husband, Stephen R. Fielder, 59, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., was sentenced in November 2007 to life in prison without the opportunity for parole for her grisly death.

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In the hearing Monday, Sanders gave defense attorney B. Craig Manford about two weeks to obtain what would be a last-minute independent forensic examination of the woman's remains.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely told the judge that the administrators of Fielder's estate wanted to bury her on April 9, her birth date.

"I think this a very time-sensitive matter that has long passed," said Sanders, who questioned why the defendant's request for a second autopsy hadn't come earlier.

Fielder, who was found guilty of first-degree murder, claimed on the witness stand that his wife's death at his home along Winchester Avenue was an accident. Fielder said she fell down a flight of steps leading to his basement during a confrontation that he thought would end with him being locked out of his house and with her obtaining a restraining order to keep him out. Fielder testified that he dismembered her body and attempted to sink the luggage to the stream's bottom with her remains inside. Fielder claimed he covered up her death because he doubted the police would believe his account of a domestic confrontation.

In making the argument Monday for a second autopsy, Manford said his client was surprised by the testimony of state deputy chief medical examiner Nabila Haikal at trial and claimed it was at odds and inconsistent with the state's autopsy report.

Manford said Haikal's testimony about two "bleeding" stab wounds playing a role in Fielder's death were not mentioned in the forensic pathologist's autopsy report, which he said did not specify a cause of death other than bodily trauma.

"The defendant was surprised at trial by this testimony and had he been aware of those opinions prior to trial, the defendant would have sought out his own independent autopsy," Manford said in a motion opposing the body's immediate release from the state medical examiner's office in Charleston, W.Va.

In her motion requesting the release of Fielder's remains, Games-Neely said the state determined it no longer needed the body to be held for evidence and the state medical examiner's office was waiting for permission to release it.

In August 2007, Games-Neely filed a similar motion to have the remains released, but Sanders agreed to a request by Fielder to review the medical examiner's conclusions and consider additional testing of organs related to toxicology.

Describing Fielder's remains as now being in a "state of rapid deterioration," Games-Neely doubted whether any reliable findings could be garnered from a second autopsy.

"Every day that goes by, it gets worse and worse and worse," Games-Neely said.

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