Bellaire murder suspect back in court

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The trial for an accused murderer of a Bellaire woman draws near. Brandon Michael Phelps, 20, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, appeared in a status conference Monday before Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato.

Phelps’ trial date is set for Jan. 2. His next conference in court was set for Sept. 25, 8:30 a.m.

Phelps and Devin Wayne Fuller, 19, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, are charged with aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. Each count carries a death penalty specification. Both face two additional counts of trespassing.

The crimes are alleged to have taken place June 29-30, 2012. The victim, Lydia Ashworth, was found dead in her home.

Phelps was also recently arraigned and pleaded not guilty to possession of a deadly weapon while under detention, a felony of the first degree. That issue will be continued.

During a previous status conference, Phelps’ defense challenged the Constitutionality of the death penalty and asked it be taken off the table. Fregiato noted that that state had filed its response, but not ruling has been made.

Prosecutor Chris Berhalter related ongoing information sharing, including pictures and voicemail references, as well as police reports regarding the defendants. The defense is requesting a detailed DNA report from the BCI&I crime lab.

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