Originally created 09/26/96

Fielding to serve life in prison



With six votes for death and six votes for life in prison without parole, Robert Eugene Fielding's punishment was left to the judge Wednesday.

After only two and a half hours of deliberations, the Richmond County Superior Court jury announced it was deadlocked 6-6 as to what punishment Mr. Fielding should receive for murdering and robbing Mary Colley Stewart on May 12, 1994.

When the jury cannot reach an unanimous verdict, sentencing is left to the judge. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet's only options were life with the possibility of parole or life without parole. He could not impose the death penalty.

Judge Overstreet immediately sentenced Mr. Fielding, 45, to life without parole for murder and 20 years for robbery and ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

Mr. Fielding turned and gave his family a little wave as he was led from the courtroom.

Defense attorneys Peter Johnson and Elizabeth Calhoun would not comment at the courthouse Wednesday night.

Although District Attorney Danny Craig said he thought the case cried out for the death penalty he respected the jury.

"Whenever a jury has worked as hard as this one has worked and deliberated as carefully as this one ... you have to assume they had very good reasons for the decisions they made or that they couldn't make a unanimous decision."

Earlier Wednesday, in the 10th day of trial, Mr. Fielding sat dry-eyed staring off into space as the courtroom full of people, including the jury, cried along with Mrs. Stewart's family and friends as they described her and the effect of her murder.

"I relive the horror of her murder every day. I can hear her cry for help. I can see her body lying on the floor. I can see her body lying in the Dumpster overnight. I can see her body being shredded ..." Mrs. Stewart's sister Cecile Dougherty told the jury.

Although they read from a prepared victim impact statement, the enormity of the loss and grief brought nearly everyone in the courtroom to tears Wednesday. "Mary was not only my loving daughter, she was my best friend," Mrs. Stewart's mother, Marie Colley Langley, testified in tears. "One cruel act of a previously convicted murderer ... he took our Mary away from us."

Mr. Fielding was convicted Tuesday of murder and robbery in connection with the disappearance and death of Mrs. Stewart, 37. She was last seen alive the night of May 12, 1994, at the Department of Family and Children Services on Fenwick Street. Mrs. Stewart was a Medicaid supervisor working late that night. Mr. Fielding was the janitorial crew supervisor for the DFCS building.

Mrs. Stewart's body was mangled by heavy machinery at the county landfill. Her remains were discovered during a 27-day search of the landfill begun two days after she disappeared.

The jury also heard Wednesday from a former Richmond County Jail inmate who described how Mr. Fielding raped him in the jail less than a month after Mr. Fielding was arrested for Mrs. Stewart's murder.

Among defense witnesses and evidence presented Wednesday was an affidavit from one of Mr. Fielding's co-defendants in a May 1969 robbery and murder. James Tanksley is currently serving a prison sentence in Pennsylvania for a murder he committed after escaping from a Georgia prison.

Mr. Tanksley wrote that the robbery was Sammy Lee Lloyd's idea and he talked Mr. Fielding, then only 17 years old, into helping. "Sammy knew Robert was slow and he took advantage of him." Mr. Fielding took all the blame for the gas station robbery and slaying of 19-year-old Willard "Toby" Hayes in the belief it made him more important, Mr. Tanksley wrote. All three were convicted of murder and robbery.

Mr. Fielding was convicted and sentenced to death after a one-day trial in 1969. A judge later reversed the conviction and Mr. Fielding pleaded guilty in 1970 in exchange for a life sentence.

He was paroled Nov. 20, 1989.