Death penalty to remain

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The death penalty will remain an option for the upcoming trial of Brandon Michael Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, accused murderer of a Bellaire woman.

Defense attorneys had challenged the Constitutionality of the death penalty, motioning to dismiss the penalty due to Constitutional and international law violations and motioning to dismiss capital components of the case due to Constitutional law violations. However, Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato, who is presiding over the case, overruled both motions.

Along with issues of Constitutionality, defense had argued that the death penalty option can lead to arbitrary and unequal punishment, that burdens of proving mitigating factors are placed on the defense, and that it creates undue risk for a defendant who decides to go to trial rather than plea. Defense also put forward Phelps’ pre-sentence evaluations and mental health evaluations for consideration, and also argued that the definition of mitigating factors is unconstitutional.

Fregiato noted numerous precedents when prior courts ruled against those arguments.

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.

DeFrank can be reached at