In the early morning hours of May 13, 1994, nothing indicated Mary Colley Stewart had met with foul play other than her distraught husband.
"(But) something just didn't seem right. I just couldn't put my finger on it," Sgt. Tony Walden of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department said of that night when he met Warren Weir Stewart Jr. at the Department of Family and Children Services building.
In two days the community would know how wrong the situation was. Mrs. Stewart's remains were found in the county landfill. Within days, Robert Eugene Fielding was indicted in connection with her death.
Friday afternoon, Mr. Fielding's capital murder trial began in Richmond County Superior Court. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and robbery.
Mr. Stewart testified Friday he wasn't alarmed at first when he got home May 12, 1994, around 9 p.m. and his wife wasn't home yet. She had left a note saying she was working late, and Mr. Stewart thought she might have gone to visit her aunt in the hospital when she finished work.
By 11 p.m., however, he was very worried and he drove down to the DFCS building where Mrs. Stewart worked as a Medicaid supervisor. Her car was still in the parking lot, Mr. Stewart testified.
"My heart sunk. I knew something was wrong immediately." He drove directly to the police station, Mr. Stewart testified.
From the witness stand Friday night, Mr. Stewart identified the engagement and wedding rings he had given to his wife and a sapphire ring she always wore.
Those rings, District Attorney General Danny Craig told the jury in his opening statement Friday, were recovered from area pawn shops. Two women will testify that Mr. Fielding gave the rings to them the night of May 12, 1994, Mr. Craig said.
"Mary fought for her life," Mr. Craig told the jury. The women who will testify how Mr. Fielding had scratches all over his arms and was limping badly that night, Mr. Craig said.
Those witnesses, defense attorney Peter Johnson said in his opening statements, are drug addicts. The informant who lead police to the women is also a drug addict and career robber who was at a crack house right behind the DFCS building the night Mrs. Stewart disappeared, Mr. Johnson said.
None of the other janitors working with Mr. Fielding at DFCS that night noticed any scratches on Mr. Fielding's body, the attorney said. Mr. Fielding stayed late that night because his boss had passed along complaints about the quality of the janitors' work, Mr. Johnson said.
"Mary Stewart walked out that door ... and Robert Fielding was inside the building and had absolutely nothing to do with her death," Mr. Johnson said.
Detective Alfonzo Williams testified Friday that Mr. Fielding became the chief suspect the night of May 13, 1994, after the other janitors were interviewed and blood was found on a trash cart and near a Dumpster behind the building.
Mr. Fielding also didn't report for work the day after Mrs. Stewart disappeared. He also was the last to leave the building that night and had exclusive control of the trash cart, Det. Williams testified.
Also, by May 13, investigators had learned Mr. Fielding was on parole for murdering Willard "Toby" Hayes, 19, during a May 17, 1969 robbery, said the officer, now a captain with the Waynesboro Police Department.
Mr. Fielding's trial continues at 9 a.m. today.
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