Murder charges dropped in cold case

WESTON – Three murder suspects in the deaths of two Lewis County women were released from custody Friday after a legal technicality resulted in the dismissal of their charges.

Joseph Metz, 39, of Horner, David Martin Hughes, 58, and Charles Steven Freeman, 51, both of Archbold, Ohio, were released from North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County. Each had been charged with two counts of murder, robbery and kidnapping in the cold case involving 69-year-old Maxine Stalnaker and her 45-year-old daughter Mary Geneva Friend.

Stalnaker and Friend were reported missing in 1999. Metz is the son of Friend and the grandson of Stalnaker.

A court officials said the dismissals were the result of a legal technicality.

Lewis County Magistrates Roger Clem and Michael Gissy both had previously been involved in the investigation of the 14-year-old case.

“They were both conflicted out by virtue of their involvement,” Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Smith told The Inter-Mountain Friday.

As a result, Upshur County Magistrate Mike Coffman handled the initial complaint. Later a special magistrate – Harrison County Magistrate Tammy Marple – was appointed.

Smith said that on Wednesday, defense attorney Jim Hawkins filed a motion claiming that Coffman was a deputy sheriff in Lewis County in the early onset of the investigation.

The motion states that Coffman should not have handled the complaint at all.

“Once that came up, we realized we might have a problem if we might not be able to convince the court that there is no conflict,” Smith said Friday. “Even if we won the matter here, it would still be something lurking in the case that a later appellate court could overturn. Rather than do that, it seemed foolish to go forward with some error in the case.”

Charges against Metz, Hughes and Freeman were dismissed without prejudice and could be refiled at any time, Smith said, adding that it is possible the charges may not be filed until the next grand jury term.

“We decided we’d dismiss and file again, if that’s appropriate – take a little time to look at things,” Smith said. “If we’re going to do it, we want to get it done right from the start.”

Smith said the case is still being investigated. He said the next steps moving forward will be up to law enforcement.

Friend and Stalnaker were reported missing in December 1999, and their car was found a short time later in Harrison County.

According to Lewis County Magistrate Court records, Hughes, while the owner of the Wilderness Plantation, allegedly conspired with Metz and Freeman to have the two women kidnapped, robbed and killed because Hughes believed Friend possessed a writing tablet containing information regarding alleged illegal and criminal activities regarding Hughes’ business affairs. Hughes was allegedly concerned that the information could be turned over to law enforcement officers, the court records indicated.

Metz and Freeman allegedly removed the two women from their residence on Fox Run Road and took them to a location along Jesse Run Road, where they allegedly took a purse and allegedly killed the two women, according to court records.

The purse was recovered by a fisherman in Lewis County in 2002.

Court records also state that Metz and Freeman called Hughes after allegedly killing the two women and disposing of their bodies.

They then allegedly turned the writing tablet over to Hughes, according to court records.