Phelps’ Murder Trial Set for Jan. 2

Jury selection for the trial of accused murderer Brandon Michael Phelps is set to begin at 9 a.m. Jan. 2 in Belmont County Common Pleas Court.

Phelps, 21, of 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, appeared this week before Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato.

Phelps and Devin Wayne Fuller, 19, of 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, are charged with aggravated murder committed in the course of rape, aggravated burglary, burglary and trespassing. The charges carry a death penalty specification if the two men are convicted.

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 charges stem from an incident that took place from June 29-30, 2012. The victim, Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found dead in her Bellaire home.

Fregiato noted the need to resolve such issues as matter of discovery, evidence sharing and outstanding motions in preparation for Phelps’ day in court. Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter and Paul Scarsella from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office represented the state. Public Defender Frank Pierce and visiting attorney Jake Blakeslee represented Phelps.

Berhalter confirmed that the prosecution is in the process of sharing a final BCI&I lab report. A list of potential witnesses will also be provided so the defense may examine any criminal records. The defense will also examine the audio and video interrogations.

A jury draw will be held on Oct. 11. On Oct. 15, a jury questionnaire will be served by the sheriff’s office. By Nov. 18, the first notices to appear will be sent to jurors for the Jan. 2 trial date. An exception hearing will be held Dec. 20. Fregiato will rule on all requested exceptions during that hearing.

Pierce noted and Fregiato agreed that the importance of due process is heightened in a capital case.