CUMBERLAND — An attorney, whose client Megan Shaffer was convicted of second-degree murder by a 12-member jury in Garrett County Circuit Court on Monday, said an appeal in the case is "certainly an option."
On Tuesday, Stephen R. Tully, of Towson-based Seigel, Tully, Rouhana & Tully, said an appeal would have to be filed after the date of disposition, which is expected to happen in roughly two months.
Meanwhile, Shaffer is in custody at the Garrett County Detention Center.
Shaffer, 21, of Ridgeley, West Virginia, was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and assisting another to commit or attempt to commit suicide in the death of Alexander Stevens, 24, of Frostburg.
Stevens was found, naked, with his throat slashed and at the bottom of a cliff, known as High Rock, dead on Jan. 4 last year within the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County near Pine Swamp Road.
In December, Shaffer entered a not guilty plea to each count.
The jury deliberated for roughly four hours before returning to the courtroom with a decision Monday evening.
Tully said he and the Shaffer family expected a not-guilty verdict in the case.
"They're in shock," Tully said of the Shaffer family.
The trial included a variety of unique facts and was very emotional, Tully said.
"I think it was tough for everybody," he said of the Stevens and Shaffer families.
Instructions to jury
Throughout the trial, Garrett County Circuit Court Judge Raymond Strubin instructed the — six men and nine women — jurors, including three alternates, to avoid all reports including internet, newspaper, social media and conversations pertaining to the trial.
Prior to Monday's deliberation, Strubin told the jurors to carefully consider testimony they had heard during the trial.
"Did the person impress you as honest," Strubin said. "Decide how much you believe of what the witnesses had to say."
Closing arguments on Monday
Garrett County State’s Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch held pink reading glasses while she talked over loud church bells that chimed outside the courtroom.
She recapped testimony from witnesses including Kristen Logsdon, of Fort Ashby, West Virginia, who said she and Shaffer have been friends for several years.
Logsdon described Shaffer and Stevens as dating, speculated a lot about their relationship and said Shaffer hadn't given her many details, Welch said.
Welch also talked of Shaffer's friend, Danielle Foye, of Cumberland. Foye contradicted Shaffer's accounts of the events at High Rock and said Shaffer told her Stevens forced her to remove her clothes, Welch said.
Additionally, Foye testified she and her family hate the Stevens family, Welch said.
Doug Widdows, of Cumberland, who testified he and Shaffer had dated and are now friends, said he knew Shaffer was lying about falling from the cliff because she was a hunter who knew the woods, Welch said.
Widdows appeared to be "really afraid" he was going to say the wrong thing on the witness stand, Welch continued in the closing argument.
Welch said Stevens, toward the end of his life, had made many plans for his future, was "forward thinking" and not someone considering suicide.
She talked of testimony from Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist, consultant and expert witness Tully had called for the defense.
"(Arden) gives his opinion for money," Welch said.
Arden labeled Stevens's death a suicide, whereas Carol Allen — state assistant medical examiner whose office performed the autopsy on Stevens — said his injuries could not be self-inflicted, Welch said.
The "substantial force" Allen testified that was needed to slash Stevens's throat could be inflicted by someone who is a blackbelt in karate and power weightlifter, Welsh said of Shaffer.
Welch cited many pages from police interviews with Shaffer that she said showed the defendant's "ever changing" statements.
"Even her best version doesn't match the evidence and she knew that was gonna be a problem," Welch said of Shaffer.
Shaffer did not tell police the truth "because she knew she had caused his death," Welch said.
She said Shaffer's testimony that Stevens had used a razor blade to carve a cross into her back and cut part of her clitoris were "wild allegations" that weren't back by any proof.
"There's no evidence of abuse," Welch said.
Welch also said Shaffer had several opportunities to avoid Stevens but instead gave a "wild explanation" of why she couldn't drive away.
She said Shaffer could have tossed the knife into the dark woods. Stevens was not wearing his glasses, she said.
"Throw the knife," Welch said. "Nobody dies."
She also said Shaffer turned "off and on various emotions" on the witness stand.
Tully told the jury it's better for 10 guilty people to walk away from a charge than one innocent person be punished.
He also said the charges of second-degree murder and assisted suicide contradicted each other.
Stevens had been thrown out of the Coast Guard because of an alcohol problem and wanted to kill himself, Tully said.
He also said family and friends of Alex Stevens were not surprised at initial reports that the young man had committed suicide.
Alexander Stevens's sister had expressed concern about her brother's behavior, said he was dangerous and asked a therapist for help, Tully said.
He talked of testimony that Stevens had smashed a guitar into a TV, showed up at a strangers house in the winter while not wearing shoes and claimed to have lost his car.
"He was just mentally ill," Tully said.
Tully also said Stevens in the past had taken LSD and suffered hallucinations after ingesting cough medication.
Stevens reflected suicidal thoughts "over a long period of time" that likely "culminated on the night in question," Tully continued in the closing argument.
"We know that he has suicidal tendencies," Tully said of Stevens.
He described Stevens as a former boxer who had no defense wounds when he died.
Stevens "tried to hurt his mother" by leaving her caged dog in a cemetery, Tully said.
Stevens did not have "the background of a sane person," Tully said.
Shaffer was Stevens's "victim of abuse," Tully said.
She tried to protect the person who abused her, he said.
People can be under the emotional control of their abuser, Tully said.
Stevens "used (Shaffer's) hand to cut his own throat," Tully said of Shaffer.
He also addressed the $188,000 Edward Jones account on which Stevens named Shaffer as beneficiary shortly before his death.
"There's a hell of a lot of easier ways" for someone to get money than ending up at the bottom of a cliff, naked in the winter, Tully said.
"She's not guilty," Tully said of Shaffer. "She's the ... victim in this case."
Coping and moving forward
After the verdict was read on Monday, the Stevens family talked of how they coped with their loss and the impending murder trial.
"The whole thing is a horror," said Jay Stevens, Alexander Stevens's father. "It hurts that his life was cut so short."
"We pray for Megan," said Janet Stevens, Alexander Stevens's mother, of Shaffer.
The Stevens family has undergone counseling and received comfort from their church, community, friends and others, Janet Stevens said.
"Even strangers have reached out ... and said, 'we pray for you,'" Janet Stevens said.
They also talked of having to move forward.
Jay Stevens will fight hard to beat his cancer, his wife will continue to work in real estate and their daughter will teach music in Anne Arundel County, they said.
But while their lives, daily routines, continue, the family will carry memories of their Alex shrouded by sadness and emptiness.
This Friday, Alexander Stevens would be celebrating his 26th birthday, said his twin sister, Tristan Stevens, who is left feeling bittersweet about the occasion as it comes on the heels of a murder conviction in her brother's death.
"I loved Alex and I miss him so much," Tristan Stevens said. "He was a wonderful person."
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This Megan Shaffer trial conclusion story, with an update today, has details I did't have time to include last night as I wrote the story from my car in Oakland to meet a press deadline. STORY: Megan Shaffer's lawyer: Murder conviction appeal 'an option' https://t.co/nkVVBrEMVg pic.twitter.com/9p5fHUUebR— Teresa McMinn (@teresamcminn1) March 20, 2018
Here's tonight's story. Check back for more details tomorrow. Thanks! T. https://t.co/MbgD7BVYn4— Teresa McMinn (@teresamcminn1) March 20, 2018
Moments after Megan Shaffer is found guilty of 2nd degree murder, Stevens family talks of justice for Alexander Stevens. "We don't have joy," his dad, Jay Stevens said. "It's so sad." My story soon at https://t.co/wfFWFyhMBE.— Teresa McMinn (@teresamcminn1) March 20, 2018
Jury finds Megan Shaffer guilty of 2ND degree murder. See my full story tonight at https://t.co/wfFWFy0bd4.— Teresa McMinn (@teresamcminn1) March 19, 2018