Cumberland Times-News

January 14, 2014

Simmons’ killer admits to second murder

Stephen Schleuniger gets 30 years in prison for city woman’s death

Jeffrey Alderton
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Convicted killer Stephen Schleuniger was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison for killing Lisa Ann Simmons last September.

The 43-year-old Simmons was beaten, stomped and choked to death on Sept. 5 by Schleuniger when Simmons returned to her Browning Street home from work that night.

Schleuniger, 44, who pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder in the case through a plea agreement, appeared before Allegany County Circuit Court Judge W. Timothy Finan.

The victim’s family and supporters erupted in subdued cheers when the judge announced the sentence — deciding to exceed the state’s recommendation for 30 years with 10 years suspended as stipulated in a plea agreement accepted by the court last month.

“I’m struck by the facts in this case,” said the judge. “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.

Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Bean told the court the plea agreement was driven by the recovery of the victim’s body, which State’s Attorney Michael O. Twigg said would not have been possible without the assistance of the defendant.

Simmons’ body was recovered in Winchester, Va., on Nov. 25, 2013 — more than 2 1/2 months after Schleuniger killed Simmons.

Finan announced the sentence after the state called Robbie Bennett, the victim’s son, and Carol Growden, Simmon’s mother, to the witness stand to deliver their prepared victim impact statements.

“I took Lisa to work every day and we would sit in the car and have coffee together for 20 minutes. I used to go to her home three days a week ... now, I just sit home and cry.

“I can’t wait until someone calls me and tells me you (Schleuniger) are dead ... I hope what you did to her haunts you the rest of your life,” said Growden as she fought back tears.

Growden’s emotional statement was interrupted more than once by defense counsel’s objections to references by Growden that Schleuniger was involved in a homicide of his former girlfriend in Washington County.

In his statement, Bennett said he “can’t stop the tears falling down my face” and that he wanted to stomp on Schleuniger the way Schleuniger had done to his mother the night he killed her.

“Not only did he kill my mom, he kept her from her family and friends. He was extremely jealous,” said Bennett.

The victim’s son also commented that Schleuniger had caused his mother to fear for her life and that she once ran to a friend out of fear for her safety.

When he was allowed to address the court, Schleuniger said, “I am very, very sorry for what I done with all my heart. I just hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me ... that night, it wasn’t me physically and emotionally.” He asked his own family, as well as the victim’s family, to forgive him.

Among his comments to the court before the sentence was imposed, defense attorney James Elliott said Schleuniger “doesn't understand how he got himself in this situation.”

It was just seven weeks ago when Schleuniger led police to the wooded area of Winchester, where he had dumped Simmons’ brutalized body and then covered it with tree branches and tires.

The victim was clothed in her McDonald’s restaurant uniform that she was wearing the night of the attack.

Bean, the assistant state’s attorney, told the court he was at the site when the victim’s body was recovered in Winchester. He said it was quite possible the victim’s body might never have been discovered had it not been for Schleuniger revealing the wooded location to police.

In his detailed confession, Schleuniger admitted to police that he had struck the victim in the front yard, dragged her into the house and stomped on her, and then choked her with a dog leash. The leash was found with the body when it was recovered.

Simmons was reported missing by her family on Sept. 9 to the Cumberland Police Department. City police and C3I detectives immediately developed Schleuniger as a suspect in the case.

A search warrant was executed at the South End residence that Schleuniger and Simmons had lived together.

Evidence collected at the scene included bloody footprints on the front porch and blood stains on a rug and the floor of the front room of the residence. Forensic analysis determined it was blood of the victim.

Schleuniger was arrested on Sept. 10 in Martinsburg, W.Va., by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department. The victim’s blood was found on Schleuniger’s shoes when he was arrested in his employer’s truck.

The case was prosecuted by Bean. Attorneys James Malone and Elliott, both of the public defender’s office, represented Schleuniger.

In leg and wrist chains and dressed in blaze orange jail attire, Schleuniger was escorted from the courtroom by Allegany County correctional officers of the sheriff’s department for return to the county detention center and eventual transfer into the custody of the state prison system.

After the hearing, Bean said he was not surprised by the sentence. “I just hope it will lead to some closure for the family. I’m glad this process is over for them.”

Elliott declined comment immediate after the sentencing hearing.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.