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Post-conviction hearing delayed for man convicted in 1989 murder

Presiding judge assisted in investigation of another suspect in death of Jeffrey Lynn Fiddler

April 26, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

A post-conviction hearing for a man serving a life sentence in the 1989 murder of a Hagerstown man was delayed Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court when presiding Judge Daniel Dwyer said he had assisted in the investigation of one of the other suspects before becoming a judge.

Edward C. Stouffer, 43, was convicted by a jury in 1996 for the kidnapping and murder of Jeffrey Lynn Fiddler, 21, whose body was found in a ditch along Interstate 81 near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border on Feb. 17, 1989. Stouffer was sentenced to life for the killing and a concurrent 30 years for kidnapping.

As the hearing was about to begin, Dwyer told Assistant Public Defender David Russell and Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael that he had been an assistant state's attorney in 1989 and assisted police in investigating Lewis William Burral, who was later charged and convicted of second-degree murder in Fiddler's death and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Dwyer said Judge W. Kennedy Boone III, currently on a leave of absence, originally was scheduled to hear the appeal. Dwyer left it up to Russell whether he should hear the appeal, and the defense attorney said he would prefer a judge with no connection to the case.

At Michael's request, Dwyer took a brief recess to see if another judge could hear the appeal, but none was available.

Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr.  prosecuted Stouffer prior to becoming a judge, Michael said afterward.

"This is nothing unusual. We've been here twice before" only to have the hearing postponed, said Fiddler's father, Jimmy Fiddler, who was in the courtroom with his wife, Teresa Fiddler.

"We've been to every parole hearing" to oppose Stouffer's release, Jimmy Fiddler said.

"I can't get my son back," he said.

The petition for post-conviction relief alleges that Stouffer had ineffective counsel in his 1996 trial. The petition alleges that his trial attorney failed to properly challenge hair evidence introduced on the basis of whether such evidence was "generally accepted within the scientific community."

The jury heard testimony at the trial that a hair found in a vehicle once owned by Stouffer was "indistinguishable" from a hair recovered from a hair brush belonging to Fiddler, the petition said. Russell wrote there are several cases where people convicted in cases involving hair evidence were later exonerated by DNA evidence.

The petition also said that Stouffer's attorney, Arthur Boyce, failed to object to the state's closing argument in which Stouffer was accused of lying on the witness stand.

Boyce also should have cross-examined state witnesses regarding improper police procedures. The petition referred to audio tapes of witnesses that appeared to have been edited.

The petition claimed Boyce failed to file a timely motion for modification of sentence and a motion for a three-judge panel to review the sentence, or to argue that the murder and kidnapping charges should have been merged at sentencing.

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