Trial schedule set for murder suspect

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A tentative schedule has been put forth for an accused murderer of a Bellaire woman set to be tried this January.

Brandon Michael Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, appeared Wednesday before Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato.

Phelps and Devin Wayne Fuller, 19, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, are charged with four counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. The charges carry a death penalty specification.

Both face two additional counts of trespassing. Phelps is also accused of possession of a deadly weapon while under detention, a felony of the first degree.

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

Phelps’ trial date is set for Jan. 2.

Fregiato noted the need to resolve such issues as matter of discovery, evidence sharing, and outstanding motions in preparation for Phelps’ day in court.

Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter and Paul Scarsella from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office represented the state. Public Defender Frank Pierce and visiting attorney Jake Blakeslee represented Phelps.

Berhalter confirmed that the prosecution is in the process of sharing a final BCI&I lab report. A list of potential witnesses will also be provided so the defense may examine any criminal records. Defense will also examine the audio and video interrogations.

Fregiato added that as of the present court date, all motions have been ruled on except for the motion to dismiss the death penalty and capital components. During a previous status conference, Phelps’ defense challenged the Constitutionality of the death penalty and asked it be taken off the table.

A jury draw will be held Oct. 11, 11:30 a.m.

On Oct. 15 a jury questionnaire will be served by the sheriff’s office. By Nov. 18 the first notices to appear will be sent to jurors for the Jan. 2 date. An exception hearing will be held Dec. 20 8:30 a.m. where Fregiato will rule on all requested exceptions.

The jury selection will begin Jan. 2, 9 a.m. The completion of forms by potential jurors may last as long as two days. Defense and prosecution will review the completed forms.

Pierce noted and Fregiato agreed that the importance of due process is heightened in a capital case.

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