Originally created 09/20/96

Fielding trial begins



The jury won't see any smoking gun. In fact, when Robert Eugene Fielding's trial testimony gets under way today, the jury won't even learn how Mary Colley Stewart died.

But investigators and prosecutors are confident they can convince the Richmond County Superior Court jury selected this morning that Mr. Fielding, 45, killed Mrs. Stewart on May 12, 1994, and that he should die for the crime.

Mr. Fielding has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and robbery. Since the first time police questioned him two days after Mrs. Stewart disappeared from the Department of Family and Children Services building on Fenwick Street, Mr. Fielding has denied having anything to do with the Medicaid supervisor's death.

Without any murder weapon or witnesses to Mrs. Stewart's death, prosecutors have only a circumstantial case against Mr. Fielding. Jurors also might question the credibility of some key witnesses who have felony convictions and drug addictions.

``Some of the strongest cases presented are those based on circumstantial evidence,'' said Ron Carlson, professor at the University of Georgia law school. Georgia courts in the past were highly suspicious of such cases but as scientific studies have proven the reliability of circumstantial proof, the courts have gained confidence in such evidence, Mr. Carlson said.

Not everyone agrees, though. ``It seems to be an entirely circumstantial case, and not much at that,'' said veteran defense attorney Michael Garrett, who said the only thing he knew about the case was what he read.

``They can't even prove she was murdered; how are they going to prove a particular person murdered her?'' Mr. Garrett asked.

For 27 days, police searched through the county landfill in search of her remains after her body was mangled by heavy machinery. Police say they believe her body reached the landfill after it was placed in a trash bin outside the DFCS building and the bin's contends were hauled to the landfill May 13, 1994.

But the medical examiners don't know how she died. They will show jurors photographs of what police found.

Police were criticized for not finding Mrs. Stewart's body when they searched the DFCS building May 12, 1994. Her husband, Warren Weir Stewart, called police when she failed to return home that night. Her car was still in the DFCS parking lot.

Investigators searched the building, one even looked into the trash bin in back, said an officer involved in the case, who asked not to be identified. But at that point they weren't looking for a body, they were looking for signs of a possible robbery - furniture overturned, an earring on the ground, or her purse thrown on top of the trash in the bin, the officer said.

Not knowing the Stewarts, investigators initially couldn't rule out the possibility that Mrs. Stewart simply didn't want to go home, the officer said. In hindsight, if they had considered the case a possible homicide from the beginning, Mrs. Stewart's body might have been found, the officer said.

By the next day, however, after talking again to Mr. Stewart, investigators became convinced Mrs. Stewart never left the DFCS building. On hands and knees they used a special device that can spot blood invisible to the human eye. The device hit in Mrs. Stewart's office, on a trash cart and near the trash bin's door. Investigators got permission to search the landfill.

They already were looking for Mr. Fielding and he came down to the police station the night of May 14, 1994. He said he saw a woman working late that night at DFCS but that she was gone when he went by her office around 7 p.m. Mr. Fielding said he left the office before 9 p.m. and walked all the way home to Whistle Lane, arriving around 3 a.m.

Investigators didn't believe the story.

A witness had told them Mr. Fielding didn't leave the building until after 10 p.m. He had bruises on his hands and arms. He was the only janitor who saw Mrs. Stewart that night.

``Within an hour and a half of her death, Mr. Fielding was trying to sell her jewelry,'' Mr. Craig said in court this week.

According to the officer who worked on the case, Mr. Fielding went to Deborah Hawes in Stonegate Apartments before midnight May 12, 1994, and asked her to pawn some jewelry.

Investigators found the jewelry - Mrs. Stewart's wedding ring inscribed ``WWS to MMC 5-30-92,'' a sapphire ring and a watch - at local pawn shops.

Several potential trial witnesses, such as John Lee Myers, can testified about the night of May 12, 1994, when they saw Mr. Fielding at Stonegate. Mr. Fielding asked Mr. Myers for a set of clothes, and said the police were looking for him, according to court documents. Mr. Myers, who is serving time in a South Carolina prison, described Mr. Fielding as ``nervous and real strange'' that night.

Other witnesses will tell the jury about Mr. Fielding's actions the night of May 12, 1994, as they cleaned the DFCS office building. Mr. Fielding was the supervisor of the janitorial crew.

Mr. Fielding acted very strange that night, co-worker Louis W. Calloway told police. He disappeared at times and suspiciously checked on the other janitors' location in the building, Mr. Calloway said. At one point that night, Mr. Fielding pulled Mr. Calloway aside and asked him if a water sprinkler was actually a surveillance camera.

The jury also will hear about the robbery and murder of 19year-old Willard ``Toby'' Hayes on May 17, 1969, in Augusta. Mr. Fielding committed the crime and spent 20 years in prison before being paroled in 1989.

``We had trouble with him not working and we pressured him, which turned out not to be good,'' said Jack Glazner, chief parole officer in Augusta. ``I wish this one had never been released.''

A revocation warrant was taken out June 5, 1993, when Mr. Fielding was arrested and held in jail on charges of rape and possession of cocaine.

But the grand jury didn't indict Mr. Fielding on the rape charge, and in October 1993 he was acquitted of the cocaine charge. With no other reason to revoke his parole and send him back to prison, Mr. Fielding was released from jail Nov. 2, 1993, Mr. Glazner said.

Mr. Fielding tried to get his parole transferred to Brunswick on March 1, 1994, but it was denied when a parole officer determined he had lied about where he would live there.

Less than three months later, Mr. Fielding was back in custody, accused of killing Mrs. Stewart.

The trial is expected to continue throughout the weekend and next week.


image: pro-prosecution

image: numbersMr. Fielding was the only janitor in the office building who told police he saw Mrs. Stewart the night she disappeared.

image: numbersMrs. Stewart's blood was found on the carpet in her office and on a trash cart.

image: numbersPolice traced Mrs. Stewart's jewelry back to Mr. Fielding.

image: numbersTestimony about incriminating statements Mr. Fielding made to others.

image: numbersJury will hear how Mr. Fielding killed a man in a robbery in May 1969.

image: numbersJury will see color photographs of Mrs. Stewart's remains found in landfill.

image: numbersAlthough Mr. Fielding didn't confess, he changed parts of his account of what he was doing the night Mrs. Stewart disppeared.


image: pro-prosecution

image: numbersNo witnesses to Mary Colley Stewart's death.

image: numbersRobert Eugene Fielding never confessed.

image: numbersDNA evidence about a bloody T-shirt found at Mr. Fielding's home won't be used.

image: numbersNo cause of death for Mrs. Stewart and no murder weapon found.

image: numbersAfter coming under fire for failing to find Mrs. Stewart's body, police tried to cover for their mistake and simply grabbed the first likely suspect -- Mr. Fielding.

image: numbersSome prosecution witnesses could have credibility problems.

image: numbersMr. Fielding is deemed mentally retarded.