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Martinsburg woman sentenced in shooting death of estranged husband

September 09, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Berkeley County Circuit Court judge Friday sentenced a 38-year-old woman to 15 years in prison for the 2007 shooting death of her estranged husband in Martinsburg.

Judge Christopher C. Wilkes of the 23rd Judicial Circuit sentenced Maria L. Decicio-Smith, who pleaded no contest in June to one count of voluntary manslaughter, to serve the maximum possible sentence.

Decicio-Smith was indicted in 2008 on one count of first-degree murder.  

She allegedly shot Richard E. Amundson, 45, five times — twice in the back of the head at very close range — on Oct. 15, 2007.

After reviewing evidence in the case, Wilkes said he concluded there was a history of domestic violence between Decicio-Smith and the victim, but also indicated the shots fired to the back of the victim's head appear to demonstrate "a form of vengeance was extracted" by the defendant.

"The question then becomes whether it is a justifiable vengeance or not," the judge said.

The plea agreement reached between defense attorney B. Craig Manford and Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely was not an "untoward resolution of the case," Wilkes said.

The judge said Manford did a good job of presenting evidence of  battered spouse syndrome, but also noted prosecutors compiled strong forensic evidence that indicated Amundson was murdered.

"The plea I think is in the best interest of all parties and to the community," Wilkes said.

Presenting Decicio-Smith's account of what happened the day Amundson was shot, Manford said the victim first "came at her" with a knife in an altercation that began in the kitchen of her home at 210 Gussie Ave. in Martinsburg.

Decicio-Smith ultimately "retreated" to the basement, where the gun was hidden. When the victim came at her, she began firing the single-action, .22-caliber handgun at him, Manford said.

In a prepared statement, Decicio-Smith told Wilkes Friday that "no one will understand what my husband did to me. The body heals but you can't erase the memories."

Decicio-Smith, who said she forgave Amundson, didn't plainly admit in court that she shot Amundson, but told the judge that her husband forced her to make a choice of life or death.

Amundson was found lying face down in the basement behind the furnace area with a rotisserie fork near his left hand, officials have said.

Games-Neely, who asked for the maximum sentence to be imposed, told the court that prosecutors believe the crime scene was contaminated.

She described Decicio-Smith as one of the most manipulative people that had ever appeared before the court and pointed to the apparent circumstances of how Amundson was shot as one of the reasons for asking for the 15-year sentence.

Games-Neely has previously said investigators found that Decicio-Smith and Amundson married in October 2006, and that the first domestic incident occurred in November of that year.

There are records of multiple domestic incidents involving the deceased, who was incarcerated for one domestic battery conviction, and there was one reported domestic charge against Decicio-Smith, Games-Neely has said.

No members of Amundson's family were at Thursday's hearing.

Games-Neely reiterated that Amundson's next of kin is a twin brother, Paul Leo Amundson, who has been "on the run" for years and is wanted on a federal warrant for terrorist acts. The brothers' adoptive parents are deceased.

Since the killing, Decicio-Smith has been treated at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston, W.Va., on at least two occasions. Games-Neely said questions of Decicio-Smith's competency to stand trial contributed to the delay in the case.

Decicio-Smith, who contacted The Herald-Mail after she was charged with murder, criticized the media coverage of her case Friday as well as   Games-Neely.

She also told the judge that she wished to apologize to taxpayers, the community and to Wilkes for "taking so much of the court's time."

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