For the second time in his life, Robert Eugene Fielding faces the possibility of execution after being convicted of murder.
The same Richmond County Superior Court jurors who convicted Mr. Fielding, 45, on Tuesday must now decide if they believe he should go to prison for life - with or without the chance of parole - or die in the electric chair for murdering 37-year-old Mary Colley Stewart on May 12, 1994.
Attorneys expect to present all their witnesses by late this afternoon and make closing statements. The jury could begin deliberations this evening to determine Mr. Fielding's punishment in the 10th day of his trial.
At the time of Mrs. Stewart's death, Mr. Fielding was on parole for murder. He had been convicted and sentenced to die in 1969 after a one-day trial, but the judge later reversed the conviction. Mr. Fielding pleaded guilty in 1970 in exchange for a life sentence and he was paroled Nov. 20, 1989.
"I just hope that God holds Mary in his hands and helps you reach the right verdict ..." District Attorney Danny Craig told the jury in his closing argument Tuesday morning as he choked back a sob.
The jurors returned the guilty verdict after deliberating nearly three hours.
As family and friends of Mrs. Stewart and Mr. Fielding began to leave the courtroom - relieved on one side and sorrowful on the other - Mr. Craig went to Mrs. Stewart's husband and tightly hugged the man who he had grown up with, Warren Weir Stewart Jr.
This morning, Mr. Stewart will be among the people who tell the jury a little about Mrs. Stewart and what her death has meant as the prosecutors present evidence they hope will convince the jury to sentence Mr. Fielding to die.
Mrs. Stewart, a Medicaid supervisor, disappeared from the Department of Family and Children Services building on Fenwick Street the night of May 12, 1994. Her remains were found during a 27-day search of the county landfill.
Investigators had little to nothing to go on - no signs of a struggle at DFCS, no eyewitnesses and ultimately no cause of death. But they found a tiny drop of Mrs. Stewart's blood and fibers inside a trash cart that Mr. Fielding used the night of May 12 as he supervised the cleaning crew at DFCS.
"Unless you're put in that cart with the dress on, you're not going to get 30 fibers," Mr. Craig told the jury in closing arguments. That was the key that proved beyond a doubt that Mr. Fielding - not someone lurking in the parking lot - killed Mrs. Stewart, Mr. Craig said.
Defense attorney Peter Johnson pointed to the lack of evidence during his closing argument. Mr. Fielding's fingerprints weren't found in either DFCS office where investigators thought Mrs. Stewart might have been killed. There was no sign of a struggle. Two drops of blood found in one office belonged to neither Mr. Fielding nor Mrs. Stewart, and no one knows whose blood was on the side of the Dumpster outside the DFCS office, or if it was even blood, Mr. Johnson said.
The only significant evidence investigators ever had against Mr. Fielding was that he killed a man 27 years ago, Mr. Johnson said.
"There's absolutely nothing similar," between the 1969 killing of Willard "Toby" Hayes and the 1994 death of Mrs. Stewart, he said.
"Mary Stewart walked out that door ... and she fell prey to whatever terror was out there that night," Mr. Johnson argued.
With its verdict Tuesday, however, the jury determined the terror for Mrs. Stewart was in her office building where she had stayed late that night trying to catch up on work.
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