Morgan County man arraigned in death of pregnant girlfriend

James T. Zell Jr. was charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond

February 21, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Zell

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Morgan County man charged in the death of his pregnant girlfriend in December was arraigned Monday in Morgan County Magistrate Court, police said Tuesday.

James T. Zell Jr., 23, of Tri Lake Park in southern Morgan County, was charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond in Eastern Regional Jail Tuesday night, according to police and jail records.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Wade Shambaugh said Tuesday that Zell had fought extradition from Franklin County, Pa., where he was incarcerated in December after being arrested in Chambersburg, Pa., on a charge of driving under the influence.

An autopsy revealed Kelly Elizabeth Butler, 29, died from strangulation, police have said. She was found dead Dec. 23 in an abandoned cabin in a remote part of Hampshire County, W.Va., police have said.

Zell told police that Butler was three months’ pregnant, Shambaugh has said.

Zell confessed to the murder after being arrested on a DUI charge, according to police. He admitted that he and Butler had fought about two weeks earlier at their apartment. Zell said he awoke after blacking out from the altercation with Butler to discover she was dead, police said.


Zell was first questioned about Butler’s whereabouts on Dec. 22 at his home. The investigation started after the sheriff’s office was contacted by authorities in Shenandoah County, Va., who received information that a murder might have occurred in Morgan County, police said.

Zell allegedly told police that the couple fought after they had been out at a bar, and that his girlfriend had punched him in the face several times in the fight, causing him to black out. Zell discovered his girlfriend was lying dead on the floor with fingerprints around her throat when he awoke, police have said.

Zell loaded the woman’s body into his Chevrolet Blazer and took her to a cabin in the area of Slanesville, W.Va., in Hampshire County, which neighbors Morgan County, police said.

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