Cumberland Times-News

January 14, 2014

Not enough

Guilty of two murders, sentenced only for one

Cumberland Times-News

— Stephen Schleuniger confessed to two murders but can only be sentenced for one ... and in our eyes, that’s not nearly enough.

 Shortly after Schleuniger received a 30-year term in Allegany County Circuit on Tuesday for murdering Lisa Ann Simmons, it was revealed that on Friday, he had admitted to killing Tammy Myerly four years ago in Hagerstown.

As part of a plea agreement he reached with the Allegany County state’s attorney’s office in the Simmons case, Schleuniger cannot be charged with the Meyerly slaying.

Schleuniger struck a plea agreement with the Allegany County state’s attorney’s office, agreeing to lead police to where he hid Simmons’ body.

He admitted to beating, stomping and choking Simmons to death last September. In November, he led police to a Winchester, Va., location where he had hidden the woman’s body.

The state’s attorney’s office said the plea agreement had been reached with Schleuniger because Simmons’ body would not have been recovered without his assistance.

 The state recommended a 30-year prison term with 10 years suspended, but Judge  W. Timothy Finan rejected that and ordered Schleuniger to serve the full 30 years.

“I’m struck by the facts in this case,” said Finan. “You brutally killed this young lady ... in a brutal and dramatic way and tried to get away with this. You secreted the body in her home and moved it  to another jurisdiction ... if you hadn’t been caught, you wouldn’t be showing any remorse,” said Finan before imposing the maximum allowable sentence.

Simmons’ mother and brother made victim impact statements to the court describing how the murder touched them emotionally and physically.

Schleuniger also addressed the court, expressing sorrow and asking the victim’s family and his own family for forgiveness. Considering his previous confession in the Myerly case, we agree with Judge Finan that it is difficult to accept the sincerity of his apology.

Critics of our judicial system often decry what they view as lenient sentences for hardened criminals. What is usually not considered is that judges have to go by narrow guidelines that often give them little leeway in either “throwing the book” at a defendant or, if the situation merits, showing mercy.

It’s a situation that judges detest, saying it limits their ability to use the professional experience, knowledge and other qualities that got them to the bench in the first place.

Schleuniger received the maximum sentence that Judge Finan could give him in the Simmons case. He should serve every one of those 30 years. It may have even have the effect of a life sentence, considering that he would be 74 years old at the time of his release. He will not, however, serve one day for killing Tammy Myerly.

While we understand the prosecution’s need to offer a plea deal to find Simmons’ body, it is difficult to swallow the fact that Schleuniger will get off with no prison time for the murder in Hagerstown.

Schleuniger admitted to both crimes. One victim’s body was recovered, and the other victim’s murderer is now known for a certainty.

If there is any satisfaction to be derived from this, it is the fact that those books can now be closed ... if indeed they ever can be closed in the minds of those who knew Schleuniger’s victims.