CUMBERLAND — Stephen George Schleuniger is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty Tuesday in Allegany County Circuit Court to the death of 43-year-old Lisa Ann Simmons at the couple’s Browning Street residence Sept. 5.
Schleuniger, 44, was chained at the hands, waist and feet as he was escorted into the courtroom by Allegany County corrections officers for the hearing that began at about 9:35 a.m. with Judge W. Timothy Finan presiding.
Dressed in orange prison garb, the short-haired, goateed defendant waved and smiled to someone in the courtroom as he was being escorted to the defense counsel table where he was seated with two attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office.
Charged with first-degree murder initially, the criminal charge was modified to second-degree murder to which Schleuniger pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement.
The state will seek a prison sentence of 30 years with a mandatory incarceration of at least 20 years. Associated charges were dismissed as part of the agreement.
Schleuniger, who remains jailed without bond at the Allegany County Detention Center, is scheduled to be sentenced in circuit court Jan. 14.
According to State’s Attorney Michael Twigg, the plea agreement was driven by the recovery of the missing woman’s body, which would not have been possible without the assistance of the defendant and would also bring some closure for the victim’s family prior to the holidays.
While prosecution of the case without a body would not have been impossible, it would have presented challenges to ensure a conviction. Furthermore, had the matter proceeded to trial, her body may have never been recovered, Twigg said.
Schleuniger also has agreed to speak with law enforcement from Washington County regarding the death of his prior girlfriend in 2010.
The cause of death in that case was ruled as undetermined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Maryland and the investigation was closed by law enforcement.
The plea agreement was made possible in part through a full confession from Schleuniger and his cooperation that led C3I investigators to the location and recovery of the victim’s body Nov. 25 in the area of an industrial park in Winchester, Va.
Investigators believe that they found Simmons dressed in a McDonald’s restaurant uniform and with a dog leash that Schleuniger admitted using to strangle her in addition to repeatedly stomping her head. Positive identification of the victim is being awaited from the Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office.
The killing took place Sept. 5 after the couple reportedly argued through text messages before Simmons arrived home from work.
A neighbor told police that she heard an argument and observed Schleuniger stomping something as her husband called 911.
Schleuniger admitted to detectives that he struck Simmons in the front yard, dragged her into the house and then stomped her and strangled her with a dog leash.
The convicted killer said he wrapped the victim’s body in a comforter, placed her in the basement and later used his employer’s truck — his only means of transportation — to transport the body to the location where he eventually led police.
Simmons’ body was found in a wooded area near a trucking firm lot in Winchester that Schleuniger was familiar with through his employment as a truck driver. The victim’s body was placed in a wooded area near the lot by Schleuniger, who then concealed it with tires and tree branches.
Simmons was reported missing by her family Sept. 9 and Cumberland Police and C3I investigators identified Schleuniger as a suspect.
A search warrant was obtained and executed at the Browning Street residence where Schleuniger and Simmons had lived together.
Evidence collected at the scene included bloody footprints on the front porch and bloodstains on a rug and the floor of a front room of the residence. Forensic analysis determined it was blood of the victim.
Schleuniger was arrested 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.
Schleuniger waived extradition and was returned to Allegany County where he has remained jailed.
The case was presented by Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Bean. Attorneys James Malone and James Elliott represented Schleuniger.
The case was investigated by the C3I Unit along with assistance from the Cumberland Police Department, Maryland State Police, Virginia Bureau of Investigation and Virginia State Police.
Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at email@example.com.