Murder Suspects Face Death Penalty Charges

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Devin Wayne Fuller and Brandon Michael Phelps, who are accused of murdering a 92-year-old Bellaire woman.

Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John M. Solovan set bond at $1 million each for the pair during their arraignment on charges that carry multiple death specifications.

Fuller and Phelps, both 19 and from Bellaire, face six charges each – including aggravated murder, rape, burglary and trespassing – in connection with the June 19 death of Lydia Ashworth. Death specifications accompany four of the counts against them.

A family member who became concerned after not being able to get in touch with her found Ashworth dead inside her 124 Fourth Ave. home. Investigators have released few details about the murder, but they have said Ashworth’s killer entered through the rear of the home and that robbery was the apparent motive.

Solovan, who will hear the Fuller case, set a trial date of Dec. 17 with a plea agreement deadline of Nov. 30. The judge scheduled a trial for Phelps before Judge Jennifer Sargus for Dec. 11 with a plea deadline of Dec. 3.

Attorney Joseph Vavra represented Fuller during Thursday’s hearing. Solovan said attorneys from the Ohio State Public Defenders office who are certified to defend death penalty cases will lead Fuller’s defense team.

Certified death penalty attorneys also will be appointed to defend Phelps, but Solovan said he would try to find them within Belmont County. Attorney Frank Pierce, who represented Phelps on Thursday, and attorney Eric Costine may be part of Phelps’ defense team if they become certified.

Vavra and Pierce entered innocent pleas on all charges for their respective clients.

The $1 million bond came after Solovan heard from Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter.

“The seriousness of these crimes represent a real threat to the safety of the public,” he told the judge.

Phelps already was being held in the Belmont County Jail on Oct. 3 on an unrelated charge when authorities served him with a warrant charging aggravated murder. Wheeling police arrested Fuller without incident the same day at a National Road restaurant where he reportedly was employed. Belmont County deputies returned him to Ohio after he waived extradition Wednesday before Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone.